Category Archives: Local

Stop the Traffik

Lord Morrow at the Stop the Traffik talk in Belfast.
Lord Morrow at the Stop the Traffik talk in Belfast.

Lord Maurice Morrow took part in a Stop the Traffik talk in the Great Hall at Queen’s University last night (23rd March 2016).

The free discussion was organised by Stop the Traffik Belfast. A Facebook message about the event said that their aim is to answer the question: how can we stop human trafficking?

However, Lord Morrow said that he does not think that this is actually possible.

He said: “I don’t believe that we can wipe it out.”

He went on to explain that what we can do is deal harshly with the traffickers.

“I genuinely don’t believe that any more than our forefathers who brought legislation to deal with murder, to deal with robberies; we still have those things, but now we have tougher legislation to deal with it,” he said.

Lord Morrow is part of the Assembly’s All Party Group on Human Trafficking.

He talked about his own surprise at hearing that trafficking actually occurs here.

He said: “To my shame, I would have been saying: (a few years ago) human trafficking in Northern Ireland, really?”

He went on to say that “Human trafficking does happen here in Northern Ireland, thankfully not in a scale as other countries, but unfortunately and sadly it does, but I believe that with better awareness around human trafficking we can curtail it.”

Lord Morrow also sponsored the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which makes Northern Ireland the only part of the UK where paying for sex is a criminal offence.

I asked him about the argument made by some sex workers that the bill drives sex work underground.

He said: “This is often used that we are driving it underground […] it is already underground as much as it can be and […] I don’t think we can drive it any further underground.”

Lord Morrow described trafficking as “modern day slavery” and said that it is up to those who are in politics who “have a duty and a responsibility” to try to stop the traffik.

Up Standing: Stories of courage from Northern Ireland

 

Up Standing tells the stories of ordinary people who stood up to violence, prejudice or sectarianism.

The film gives ten accounts of different acts of bravery from people living in Northern Ireland. It was produced as part of a Corrymeela community project and funded by the International Fund for Ireland.

Making films like this one creates an opportunity for untold stories to be voiced and acknowledges quiet peacemakers who have never been recognised for their own personal acts of bravery, kindness or peace-making.

The film is used by schools so it is appropriate that it begins by telling the story of a pupil travelling to school on a mixed bus.

A series of low-angled shots are shown in-between the aisles of a dark bus with a mixture of jump-cuts and hand-held camera movements.

Gillian (not her real name) witnessed an act of sexual violence against a boy as they travelled on the same bus.

The mise en scène creates a disconcerting effect with the framing exaggerating the narrowness of the aisles and lighting helps to warn viewers that they are going to hear something disturbing.

This contrasts hugely to the end of the story where softer lighting and longer shots are used to demonstrate how things on the bus got better after two schoolgirls stood up against sectarian bullying.

Gillian changes from a twelve year old who “knew [her] place” to someone who helped change the dynamics on the school bus forever. She describes her actions as “something that just bubbled up inside of me.”

Co-Director Paul Hutchinson said that they have made the film available for schools and some “show it,” but others are still “resisting” because of “a genuine fear.”

He said that some teachers believe that “this film is encouraging young people to take inappropriate risks.”

However, Gladys Ganiel (QUB) believes that part of what makes the stories so good is that these people did something when others failed to act.

She said: “After their examples work their way into the nooks and crannies of our consciousness, perhaps we will be reminded of what we have done and what we have failed to do.”

Mr Hutchinson is now working on another project that explores the trauma of not standing up and how people cope with that.

These stories are important ones to be shared in any post-conflict society, and a free copy of the DVD is available for educational purposes.

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Planning for the future

 

just makes sense

“The entire process has been so stressful. If we knew what was involved we would never have started it.” These are the words of Julie and David McGowan. They have been fighting to obtain planning permission for an extension to their family home in North Down for almost a year.

Under the reform of public administration, the Department of Environment transferred powers to 11 new super councils in Northern Ireland on the 1st April this year. These replaced 26 existing councils in Northern Ireland and as part of their remit, the super councils inherited new planning powers, previously held by the department of environment.

But according to the McGowan family, the transition has been far from smooth.

Julie said: “When our third child came along we were faced with the decision of either upsizing or extending our family home. We have always been really happy where we are and didn’t want the hassle of moving so we settled on an extension. We had no idea what was in store and the time we have spent on the planning process would have been better spent on searching for a bigger home.

“The problem seems to be with the transfer to the new super-councils. Where before planning powers lay with the DOE now you have to apply to your local council. When we researched the planning application process we were advised to wait until the new super councils came into force as it would be “more straightforward.”

Julie added: “It has been anything but.”

According to the NI Direct, government website the reform of public administration stipulates that the changes to planning allows local councils to shape how their areas grow and develop. It also states that this is the most significant change to the planning system in more than 40 years but claims that the responsibility is shared by the department of the environment and the local councils. Herein lies the confusion seemingly.

Following the advice they had received, Julie and David approached their local planning officer for Ards and North Down as instructed after the 1st April this year. As far as they were concerned this was the first point of call in order to get their planning application underway. They were told that although the transfer of planning powers to local councils had officially taken place, it wasn’t fully implemented yet and their application should be referred to the DOE. When contacted, the DOE responded to the McGowan’s application by stating that planning powers have been devolved to local councils since the 1st of April this year and therefore their application should be submitted to their local council.

So who is responsible for local planning and where is the transparency for the public?

Under the reform of public administration in Northern Ireland, the decision to move planning powers from the DOE to local councils was “designed to make planning a speedier, simpler and more streamlined process. They will make it easier for people to access and take part in the planning process and help deliver faster and more predictable decisions.”

The McGowan family beg to differ.

Public protocol for submitting a planning application appears to be quite straightforward. According to the website, local councils are now responsible for “the vast majority of planning applications.” All applications are seemingly; “categorised as local, major and regionally significant, with councils responsible for determining all local and major applications. Each council has established a planning committee to consider and decide these applications, however not all applications will come before the planning committee for decision.

The council will publish a Scheme of Delegation that will set out which applications will be dealt with by the planning committee and which will be delegated to officers. The applications that are likely to come before the committee for decision may include large developments, contentious applications and those that receive a number of objections.”

Having read this, Julie approached her local council planning officer again, quoting the appropriate instructions: “I read all of the information carefully and it seemed clear to me that our application would be categorised as a local application and therefore it would be delegated to officers.

“But we have since been told that the scheme of delegation is yet to go ahead but our application is likely to have to go before the planning committee and this may take up to a year. As far as we can understand, only contentious, large or applications with objections need to go before the committee. All we want is an extra bedroom above our garage and a garage conversion. It’s hardly contentious.”

When contacted, the planning officer for the McGowan’s local council Ards and North Down said she: “could not comment on individual applications but the public need to be patient. The transfer of planning powers is an ongoing process but one that will ensure a simpler and speedier application process in the long run.”

A spokesperson for the DOE said: “The department of the environment can confirm that planning powers for local planning applications have now been fully transferred to local councils and the process is now complete. Anyone with planning queries should contact their council planning office.”

The McGowan family are not satisfied with these statements and say: “This is simply not good enough. We undertook the idea of extending our house on the pretence that getting planning permission would be much more straightforward with the new super councils. I know it was a long, drawn-out process in the past. The DOE and our local council are just passing the buck with this now. Change is always good in theory but in practice this is a mess. We are a family left in limbo with no idea whether our application will be approved eventually. We should’ve just moved house.”

It would seem that although the reform of public administration was designed to make public services simpler, it has only served to make things more complicated and frustrating for the public.

Safety of North West 200 questioned as injured spectator in critical condition

North West Crash Victim airlifted to hospitalA spectator and rider were airlifted to hospital after a crash involving three motorcycles at the Vauxhall International North West 200 on Saturday.

The crash happened on a straight section of the course between York corner and the Mill Road Roundabout in Portstewart during the opening Superstock race. The injured spectator, Violet McAfee, a mother of one was hit by a bike whilst standing in her neighbour’s driveway.

She was airlifted to Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital as was injured rider Stephen Thompson from County Antrim. Both are now in a stable condition.

Austrian racer Horst was also involved in the accident and received treatment in nearby Causeway Hospital in Coleraine. The third rider, Dean Harrison from Bradford escaped injury and was able to take part in the afternoon races.

Picture taken by spectator seconds after crash

GoPro footage from one of the bikes has since been released in which the bike can be seen clipping a curb and skidding down the road. The Superstock race was subsequently cancelled.

The crash has somewhat overshadowed Carrickfergus motorcyclist Alastair Seeley’s achievement of matching the late Robert Dunlop’s record of 15 wins at the event.

Alatair Seeley matches NW record wins

The Tyco BMW racer took two victories on the 8.9 mile triangle course fending off stiff competition to win both the Supersport and the Superbike races. Seeley lost out on a hat trick to Lee Johnston in the afternoon’s Superstock race. Whilst Belfast’s Jeremy McWilliams won the Supertwins race.

The feature Superbike event could have been Seeley’s chance to exceed Dunlop’s record by securing a sixteenth win but the final race was cancelled due to hazardous weather conditions as winds of up to 40mph swept in from the north coast.

Saturday’s accident has once again raised questions about the future of the road race as many argue it is simply too dangerous as over the years 18 riders have died taking part.

However after the practice sessions last Thursday TV personality and motorbike racer Guy Martin criticised the track saying there were too many safety chicanes making the track boring to race.

Martin apologised to race director Mervyn Whyte just before the fateful race on Saturday morning saying the chicanes were, ”a necessary evil.” Whyte was  quick to correct him calling them a ”requirement” helping ensure the safety of participants.

Whyte described Saturday’s crash as a ”freak” incident and promised that a full investigation will be carried out.

Are we really saving money in our local councils?

The 1st April 2015 saw a major reform of the local government in Northern Ireland. The Local Government Reform brought together the existing, 26 councils of Northern Ireland, merging them together to form 11 new super councils. This move was designed to render the local government more economic and efficient. However, from looking at the pay roll of councillors now sitting on the new super councils this would not appear to be the case.

Strabane District Council has undergone the reform, along with the rest of Northern Ireland on April 1st and merged with Derry City Council to become Derry City and Strabane District Council. Some powers and responsibilities have been devolved from the Northern Ireland Executive. The 11 super councils have undertaken the responsibility of local planning functions, off-street parking and local economic development. These responsibilities have been devolved with the credit that local councils know what their own area needs and what economic and planning developments would suit the area and best serve the people.

Chief Executive of Derry City and Strabane District Council, John Kelpie at a recent meeting in Castlederg, explained that, 620 staff were employed by the previous Derry City Council and 220 by Strabane District Council, totalling 840 staff. The public were lead to believe that there would be reductions in staffing but Mr Kelpie went on further to expand: “With the challenges that we have locally, I would estimate that we would need between three and a half to four thousand people to do what we’re trying to achieve.” This counteracts one of the missions of the super councils and suggests that the force with which they wish to attack issues in the community, along with improving life in the local government for the businesses and people of the area, this volume of personnel would be required.

It is also noteworthy that councillors under the new reform, are being given a £5,000 pay rise, much to the dismay of many people in the local community. Strabane councillors were previously being paid £9,835 per annum under the Strabane District Council ruling. Now, under the new reform councillors have a set wage of £14,200. Therefore the estimated economic saving in the reducing of councillor numbers is surely counteracted by the increase in councillor pay. If the super councils are attempting to save money by combining resources and as a result, redundancies being issued to staff of the previous set-up, why is an increase in wages coming to the fore?

Furthermore, councillors who chair a committee within the council are entitled to an additional £8,050 per annum justified as a ‘Special Responsibility Allowance’. This controversial increase in wages is challenged alternatively by Councillor Patsy Kelly, SDLP. He voiced his concerns that despite the increase in wages it is still insufficient to cover the amount of hours councillors spend at meetings and attending constituency issues. He concluded by saying that councillors are working below minimum wage per hour.

On the other hand, Jarlath McNulty, former councillor of Strabane District Council, now a community worker said: “There are many people working every single day from our community who would like to have a secure job for four years and receive a starting income of £14,200 a year”. The question still stands as to whether the new council arrangements will truly deliver on improved efficiency and economics.

The new mayor of the Derry City and Strabane District Council, Elisha McCallion set unemployment as top of her priorities in taking up her role. The most recent unemployment rate (Dec. 14 – April 15) for Derry/Londonderry and Strabane currently runs at 6%, an increase of 0.2% from the previous quarter. A re-direction of funds to address unemployment issues would be deemed preferable to increasing councillor salaries.

ElishaMcCallion-sm
Elisha McCallion as new mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council

 

Another cost passed onto the people of Northern Ireland under the Local Government Reform is the increase in rate bills. Although the council will benefit from the reform, it is evident that it all comes at a cost to the people of Northern Ireland.

The following councillors make up the new Derry City and Strabane District Council –

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You can find out more about the new reform of councils on Ni Direct.

 

Super Councils for Dummies

The reform of local government in Northern Ireland sees the replacement of the 26 districts created in 1973 with a smaller number of super districts.

The review process began in 2002 with proposals for either seven or 11 districts made before it was suspended in 2010. On March 12 2012 the Northern Ireland Executive published its programme for government which included a commitment to reduce the number of councils in Northern Ireland to 11. The first elections were on May 22 2014.

From April 1 2015 the new councils took over. The new councils provide the same services as previous councils however they have a number of new powers and responsibilities which are outlined in the table below.

Planning

· Local development plan functions

· Development control and enforcement

Roads

· Off-street parking
Local economic development

· Start a Business Programme and Enterprise Shows

· Youth entrepreneurship (such as Prince’s Trust and Shell Livewire)

· Social entrepreneurship

· Investing for Women

· Neighbourhood renewal funding relating to enterprises initiatives

Local Tourism

· Small-scale tourism accommodation development

· Providing business support including business start-up advice, along with training and delivery of customer care schemes

· Providing advice to developers on tourism policies and related issues

Heritage

· Small-scale tourism accommodation development

· Providing business support including business start-up advice, along with training and delivery of customer care schemes

· Providing advice to developers on tourism policies and related issues

Urban regeneration and community development

· Small-scale tourism accommodation development

· Providing business support including business start-up advice, along with training and delivery of customer care schemes

· Providing advice to developers on tourism policies and related issues

Other services

· Small-scale tourism accommodation development

· Providing business support including business start-up advice, along with training and delivery of customer care schemes

· Providing advice to developers on tourism policies and related issues

There are two overriding key benefits to the reform of councils in Northern Ireland.

1. Improved service provision

Councils are being given new responsibilities and a broader range of powers. Combined with partnership working with other Departments and agencies operating in their areas, this will make councils stronger, more effective and flexible to local need. They will be able to better co-ordinate service delivery and avoid duplication, leading to more efficient, high quality services.

2. Long-term cost savings

The potential long term financial benefits are substantial as amalgamating 26 councils into 11 brings with it economies of scale. The costs and benefits of reform are currently being examined to take account of the 2015 programme timetable, the sector’s Improvement, Collaboration and Efficiency proposals and the current economic climate in which reform is now being taken forward.

Councillors have been reduced in number from 582 to 462, each receiving an allowance of £14,200 a year. Those members who hold office such as mayor, deputy mayor or committee chair will also receive a special responsibility allowance.

The following table outlines the new council areas, their location and their electorate.

Council

Where

Who

Fermanagh and Omagh

All of Co. Fermanagh and parts of TyroneBorders Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan and Monaghan

Electorate of 74,414

Derry and Strabane

Includes Co. Londonderry and Tyrone

Borders Co. Donegal

Electorate of 92,593

Mid Ulster

Includes part of Co. Londonderry, Tyrone and Armagh

Borders Monaghan

Electorate of 86,591

Causeway Coast and Glens

Includes part of Co. Antrim and Londonderry Electorate of 88,654

Mid and East Antrim

Part of Co. Antrim

Electorate of 89,832

Antrim and Newtownabbey

Part of Co. Antrim

Electorate of 84,996

Belfast

Belfast City

Electorate of 323,567

Lisburn and Castlereagh

Many of the outer suburbs of Belfast

Electorate of 83,369

North Down and Ards

 

Ards Peninsula, most of Stangford lough and the southern shore of Belfast Lough

Electorate of 102,313

Newry, Mourne and Down

 

Includes Southern Co. Armagh and Co. DownBorders Co. Louth and Monaghan Electorate of 107,233
Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Includes parts of Co. Armagh and Down

Electorate 124,996

Map showing the 26 old  local government districts in Northern Ireland
Map showing the 11 new local government districts in Northern Ireland
Map showing the 11 new local government districts in Northern Ireland
Map showing the existing and new local government districts in Northern Ireland
Map showing the existing and new local government districts in Northern Ireland

If you are unsure as to your new council area and electoral ward, enter your postcode here.

There are fears over minority communities in the new council areas as Stormont’s two main power blocs tighten their grip on local government.

Ten out of the 11 new super councils are dominated either by unionists or nationalists consolidating the green and orange politics of the province. This has given rise to fears that local level politics could cement the divisions which have been evident at Stormont.

Belfast is the only council which remains ‘hung’ where Alliance holds the balance of power between unionists and nationalists.

David Ford, Alliance MLA has said, “As the new councils will have more responsibilities, it is imperative that councillors move beyond the orange and green tribal politics and towards a more inclusive style of governing,”

“Councillors must work together to deliver the best possible services for ratepayers, and council positions must be fairly distributed.”

Arnold Hatch, President of the umbrella councils body, the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA), said: “The large parties tend to dominate, whether it’s the west of the province with Sinn Fein or the east of the province with the DUP. That has been the case.

“But at the same time 99% of the decisions which councils have to take are done on a consensual basis and my firm belief is that if councils are given real responsibilities they will knuckle down to that work and these petty arguments over positions will diminish.”

Bill White, chair of polling organisation LucidTalk, said: “I think it is arguable that the boundaries for the new Belfast council were designed in such a way to ensure it would remain a hung council – as predicted by ourselves and many others.

“I think the hope was that there would be more hung councils, in Causeway Coast and Glens, for example, and Mid and East Antrim, but that has not turned out to be the case.”

An interactive map highlighting the difference between the old and new council areas can be found here.

Binevenagh Wind Farm: The Story So Far

In 2010, the Northern Ireland Executive put forward a new strategy for a more eco-friendly Northern Ireland. As such, Renewable Energy International and Windy Fields Group developed a plan to erect 21 wind turbines at Binevenagh, County Londonderry, better known as Windy Hill.

Binevenagh is one of three locations in Northern Ireland that a wind farm is being developed on. These three sites are part of a larger nine that are under special protection as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is because Binevenagh is recognised as an area of natural beauty and a popular tourist destination that the plans have been met with significant backlash.

The backlash came as a result of concerns that a large wind farm would spoil the natural beauty of the area; lengthy construction time and turbines a third the height of the cliffs themselves would cause “catastrophic and irreversible damage”, per Binevenagh SOS. Opposition to the proposed wind farm came in the form of protestors, a Facebook page with almost 3,000 likes, a website (Binevenagh SOS), and public opposition from branches of the Northern Ireland Tourism Board and the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency.

For more information on the links mentioned, check out the Binevenagh SOS website and the Binevenagh Facebook page.

Binevenagh Mountain

Amid all of the opposition to the proposal, Windy Fields and political figures have emerged and made statements in an attempt to stop concerns, or at least highlight the benefits the wind farm would provide. Furthermore, as a means of alleviating concerns over the supposed destruction of the landscape, Windy Fields reduced the number of turbines from 21 to 16. Windy Fields CEO Jeff Potter said, “We have gone to great lengths to reduce the visual impact of the wind farm, including the removal of five turbines and moving several others back from the escarpment.”

Windy Fields have argued that Northern Ireland absolutely needs to become a more eco-friendly country and the Binevenagh wind farm is the first step forward. Windy Hill, as it is known locally, is one of the windiest locations in all of Europe and, as such, is the perfect location for a wind farm. The benefits far outweigh the aesthetic drawbacks is the case put forward by Windy Fields and, with opposition having fallen to 10%, it seems like it is just a matter of time until the farm is erected, for better or worse.

 

The Positive

There are  a myriad of benefits to using wind farms as a source of renewable energy. From the low cost of production to the high output of power, wind farms are an increasingly viable option to the energy crisis facing the entire world. This is especially true considering just how windy the UK and Ireland is.

Windy Farms CEO Jeff Potter has shed some new light on the controversial Binevenagh Wind Farm project. The plans for a 21 turbine wind farm on the Northern coast have been in motion since 2010 but there still hasn’t been any ground broken. The plans have been reimagined and now there are only 16 turbines being erected but the backlash to the project has still not diminished. Potter talked about the project and explained where it’s at now.

“Yes, we are still moving along.” Said Potter. “The application has gone to the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) on an article 33 non-determination appeal, as the DOE planners were unlikely to decide either way.  The PAC is now waiting on our last environmental submission which we hope to send off in early March.” Windy Farms have submitted the last environmental report and, assuming there are no major hiccups, should receive a definitive yes or no by April or May.

Windy Fields Plans
Windy Fields Plans

So it seems likely that the project will indeed be breaking ground sometime in 2015, but there remains a vocal community of protestors, which Jeff Potter maintains are a minority. “A recent poll conducted by DECC that was released on 3 Feb 2015 showed support for onshore wind farms up to 68% of the public and total opposition down to 10%.” The 10% of total opposition seems surprising given the amount of support the anti-wind-farm Facebook page has and the Binevenagh SOS website, however it is possible that, over the past few years, the story has not been as prominent in media and public awareness of the project has dropped. Regardless of the reasoning Potter said, “This is encouraging, as it is impossible to satisfy all the people all the time.” While Potter’s words may be true, the people who oppose the wind farm are not looking for a compromise. “There is a certain percentage of the 10% of opponents who will never be satisfied and refuse to respond to questions as to where the electricity is going to come from, or how climate change should be dealt with.”

When asked about the concerns that the wind farm would ruin the natural beauty of the landscape, Potter admitted that Windy Farms have done everything to keep it as inconspicuous as possible. “We have gone to great lengths to reduce the visual impact of the wind farm, including the removal of five turbines and moving several others back from the escarpment.” And when asked if the reason for reducing the number of turbines from 21 to 16 was also aesthetic, Potter implied that it was.

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An Artist’s Rendering of The Plans

One of the major concerns of the project is ruining the natural beauty of the landscape, which could have a negative effect on tourism. Moreover Northern Ireland is seen as a budding film and television location and protestors argued that shows like Game of Thrones, which has provided a major economic boost for Northern Ireland, would be deterred from shooting here. Potter was asked about the concerns over tourism and the entertainment industry, he responded defiantly. “Most films determine their shooting destination on availability of skilled technicians and tax credits. So, these people see Northern Ireland as the New Hollywood?  On the effect of wind farms on tourism see: (1) a study commissioned by the Welsh government and published in April 2014 and (2) a study in 2011 commissioned by NITB.” Northern Ireland may not be the new Hollywood, as Potter put it, but the boost in tourism and global recognition brought forth by Game of Thrones is undeniable and deterring future projects would be a real disappointment.

Game of Thrones being filmed on the Binevenagh coast
Game of Thrones being filmed on the Binevenagh coast

Even the Northern Ireland Tourism Board has been drawn into the discussion over the aesthetic of the wind farm, per the Londonderry Sentinel (2014). “A development of this scale and in such close proximity to these features may have an impact on the ‘visitor experience’ in the area.” But when asked about the public opposition from official bodies, Potter had this to say. “The NITB did not put in an objection letter.  In fact, it would make more sense for them to support it in light of the tourism and educational centre that will be built alongside the wind farm, as well as recreational activities that it will promote: walking, jogging, cycling, etc.”

Considering the benefits of the wind farm that Potter mentioned, he was prompted for any other advantages the project could bring. Potter replied with a list:

  • Jobs – before, during and post construction in an area that is among the highest in unemployment in NI
  • Helping NI and the UK achieve binding Renewable Energy targets
  • Climate change mitigation (for those that care, as we do)
  • Community Fund of over £250,000 per annum being injected back into the local community with an emphasis on job creation and environmental projects
  • Landowner rents impacting the local economy indirectly
  • Significant Rates which will partially go to the local councils
  • The Tourism and Education Centre will provide facilities for tourists, schoolchildren/students and the local community through recreational activities
  • The peat restoration project will make the wind farm carbon positive
  • The habitat management plan will benefit flora and fauna

If all of Potter’s predicted advantages to the project come to fruition then it is hard to object the wind farm, even if it is unsightly. Potter addressed almost all of the concerns and backlash the project has faced thus far and retort for every one, some of which were more PR than others. The final question put forth to Potter was simple, what would he like to say to anyone who opposes the Binevenagh Wind Farm, in order to alleviate the concerns once and for all.

“I have had a number of discussions with opponents who came to our open days and almost all said that they have nothing against renewable energy or wind energy, but they just wanted it somewhere else.  But if coastal inhabitants in this area aren’t concerned about future (or even current!) effects of climate change, then you have to wonder what they are thinking! The project will provide much needed jobs, electricity and economic benefits, not to speak of helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. To argue that this is not enough to compensate for individual aesthetic issues is short-sighted.”

For more information and news, check out the official Windy Fields website.

 

The Not-So Positive

Gortmore-Viewing-Point-Manannan-MacLir

As mentioned on a few occasions, there has been considerable backlash to the proposed wind farm. From those who live on the coast, to Councillors and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Windy Fields has faced opposition from day one.

The opposition from locals in the County Antrim/County Londonderry area has been vocal in the form of protests, petitions, fund-raisers and social media.

These tweets are among a myriad of those opposing the wind farm. The Binevenagh SOS also has a twitter page that regularly tweets about petitions and makes sure anyone who opposes the project is encouraged to voice their opinion.

The primary concerns are about the lengthy construction time that would be necessary to build 16 turbines, the “ruined” aesthetic of the landscape once they’re erected, and the noise generated by them. Some people have voiced their concerns that the noise of the turbines would disrupt the peaceful nature of hearing the ocean. The following video shows the noise produced by a single turbine.

The Londonderry Sentinel said last year the Northern Ireland Tourist board is “the latest in a series of groups, individuals and businesses to oppose the planned wind farm in the heart of the Binevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Those opposed to the plans point to the negative impact on tourism of a ‘panoramic view of industrial size turbines’.” Ruth Morgan, Environmental Officer for NITB, was asked for any updates on the organisation’s feelings, to which she replied, “Tourism NI’s previous responses to this proposal – in which the tourism value of the area was highlighted – remains current.” Morgan’s comment is short but reinforces the original sentiments put forward by the NITB.

Mike Jones, Chairman of the Castlerock Community Association, was interviewed about the topic and had some choice words. “I think that this particular windfarm project is a complete ‘no-no’ in every way.” Said Jones. “The site chosen will destroy a very important landscape area which is a designated an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and has been since 2006. ”

When asked about his thoughts on the comments made by Jeff Potter, about Northern Ireland not being “the new Hollywood”, Jones replied with “We are not Bollywood yet but clearly we’re getting there”, along with this image:

Scan0151

Jones continued by saying, “The film industry is, in fact, becoming more and more important as a source of income for NI in general and for this area, in particular. The number of visitors – from all over the World – taking the Game of Thrones Heritage Trail, for instance, which brings them to the Downhill and Castlerock areas, has shot up over the last two seasons.”

Jones was asked about the potential benefits on the wind farm, as put forth by Potter, to which he said “Windy Fields have been trying recently to woo the local people with the promise of all kinds of jam tomorrow. They are so ill-thought out and changing from day-to-day that the eminent mendacity of this deceitful campaign is truly pitiful.” Potter’s claims about a boost in employment were also mentioned to Jones. “Employment? It’s mostly eyewash. Some labourers may get short-term work but all the skilled construction workers will be drafted in on short-term contracts, probably recruited from the unemployed oil industry construction workers in Scotland, with most of their pay being sent back there.” Jones summed up his opinion on the economic boost and employment opportunities by saying, “No profit to NI economy there!”

“Windfarms have their place in areas where the landscape is less important and much less likely to be damaged permanently by such constructions.” Said Jones, when asked for any final comments. “Submerged turbines off the coast, powered by tidal power are now being shown to be much more efficient and effective than wind turbines. The term ‘eco-friendly’ to me implies that you don’t desecrate finest landscapes and pillage the environment in pursuit of some ill-judged conviction that plastering over the countryside everywhere with turbines will solve our on-going energy problems.”

For the full interview with Mike Jones, visit this link.

Not everyone is as outspoken as Mr. Jones but he does convey the thoughts, albeit more articulately, of many on the Binevenagh Facebook page. However Ruth Morgan of NITB stated that, in recent surveys, tourists have said any wind farm would not deter them from visiting the coast. “A 2011 study commissioned by Tourism NI from Mintel provides some initial insights and has found that 52% domestic visitors and 48% ROI visitors would be happy to visit an area with wind turbines.”

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Choosing A Side

It seems that the topic is still a divisive one. As stated previously by Jeff Potter and Ruth Morgan, the opposition to the wind farm has fallen dramatically and only represents a fraction of the community. However, as we’ve discovered through the opposing websites, organisations, and interview with Mike Jones, that small pocket of opposition is a very vocal one.

The Binevenagh Wind Farm is not a black and white issue with an outcome that is both efficient and moral. Windy Fields have argued the necessity for the farm and attempted to compromise by lowering the number of turbines. That being said, the tumultuous construction of the site and eternal eye-sore on the historic landscape is undeniable.

With both sides claiming advantages and disadvantages, as well as hitting out at the other, the waters become murkier. It’s difficult to figure out who to believe and which side should be taken.  A new eco-friendly initiative is great for the environment but is it worth ravaging the land you’re trying to save?  As Mike Jones said, there is more efficient ways of generating power in a green way, without having to ruin a historic landscape. Regardless of what happens, Binevenagh will always be a sight to behold.

Councillor Mike Jones Interviewed Over Binevenagh Wind Farm

First off, what is your opinion on the Binevenagh wind farm?

I think that this particular windfarm project is a complete ‘no-no’ in every way. The site chosen will destroy a very important landscape area which is a designated an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and has been since 2006. In the rest of the UK such areas enjoy strict legal protection of their environment and natural heritage and legacy. Unfortunately, NI has never got round to putting on to statute the bill required to enact such legislation, so we have a designation without the necessary protective teeth. The project as submitted to planning was badly drawn up and inaccurate and ignored the enormous damage to the local ecology and wildlife and flora which the building phase would cause. It failed to address the important issues properly. The peat bog would cease to exist and the whole environment would be severely impacted in an area which has recently become ever more popular with visitors and tourists alike.

 Films like Hellboy and TV shows like Game of Thrones have been known to use the North Coast as shooting locations but Jeff Potter, CEO of Windy Fields, said the wind farm won’t affect potential entertainment production because Northern Ireland is not “the new Hollywood.” Any thoughts on this?

The councillors are reflecting the views of their constituents in the area, who fear that the ecological balance of the area will be permanently damaged, resulting in severe flooding on the lower slopes of Binevenagh. I chair the Binevenagh AONB Management Forum and I regularly hear these views expressed by councillors. Aesthetic reasons, yes, one of the finest views in NI will be destroyed on an up to 50 mile radius. The Gliding Club, the oldest of its kind, with a long tradition of also supporting physically challenged people to get into the air, would have to cease its activities due to the proximate dangers the turbines would create. Those who do such sports as para-gliding and micro-lighting in the area would be driven out due to this danger, also.

Windy Fields have argued that construction of the wind farm would boost employability in one of the lowest employed areas in the country. They also say there will be an economic boost due to a museum, gift shop and promoted activities. What are your thoughts on this?

Potter is ill-informed and a non-resident, who cares nothing for NI but the profit the turbines will bring him and who shows a completely callous lack of interest in the damage he plans to do to the local environment and its inhabitants. The film industry is, in fact, becoming more and more important as a source of income for NI in general and for this area, in particular. The number of visitors – from all over the World – taking the Game of Thrones Heritage Trail, for instance, which brings them to the Downhill and Castlerock areas, has shot up over the last two seasons.

And finally, the Binevenagh wind farm would ideally make Northern Ireland a more eco-friendly country, but are there alternatives?

Windy Fields have been trying recently to woo the local people with the promise of all kinds of jam tomorrow. In spite of earlier promises to make binding commitments to the Community these potential goodies are no more than paper-thin promises which, since they’re not legally binding, will be cast aside as soon as the Company has got what it wants. They are so ill-thought out and changing from day-to-day that the eminent mendacity of this deceitful campaign is truly pitiful.

Employment? It’s mostly eyewash. Yes, lots of lorries will transport thousands and thousands of tons of gravel infill and concrete and these drivers will have work, just as the people living along the access routes will be subjected to dreadful traffic noise and congestion on completely unsuitable roads. Some labourers may get short-term work but all the skilled construction workers will be drafted in on short-term contracts, probably recruited from the unemployed oil industry construction workers in Scotland, with most of their pay being sent back there. The Turbines will be fabricated abroad – currently in Holland or Scandinavia – as is the usual practice here, and shipped in to Belfast. No profit to NI economy there.

Any Final Thoughts or Comments?

Windfarms have their place in areas where the landscape is less important and much less likely to be damaged permanently by such constructions. Submerged turbines off the coast, powered by tidal power are now being shown to be much more efficient and effective than wind turbines. The term ‘eco-friendly’ to me implies that you don’t desecrate finest landscapes and pillage the environment in pursuit of some ill-judged conviction that plastering over the countryside everywhere with turbines will solve our on-going energy problems. Turbines don’t help when there’s no wind or, as is often the case here, when there’s too much. They become dangerous, have to be turned off and, as we cannot yet store power to any useful extent, we still need the coal, gas, or nuclear power stations to provide a back-up in any case. What we need are hugely better schemes to insulate buildings and reduce overall power consumption, then we might be getting somewhere.

The Ulster Elks secure a place in the final Irish Hockey League spot

 

Louise Wright in action
Louise Wright in action

It was an excellent end to the season for the Ulster Elks, as they have secured a place in the 2015 Irish Hockey League after a nail biting win over the Catholic Institute. The wild card play-off took place at Jordanstown yesterday, when the Elks won over a 4-2 penalty shoot-out.

The game remained goalless until both sides scored a point each to level at 1-1 on extra time. Kirsty Lammey had initially put the Elks ahead with a stunning reverse stick shot in the 63rd minute, but the Limerick team responded with Naomi Carroll scoring a penalty corner 2 minutes later.

The heroine of the game had to be the Jordanstown goalkeeper Rebecca Davidson, as she made 2 phenomenal saves on the penalty shoot-outs. After the game she said “I am so happy that we have made it through to IHL, we’ve trained harder than we have ever done – and to get through just shows our hard work has paid off”.

The Elks held their nerve in the shoot-out by scoring all 4 stokes, with Danielle Wilson scoring the final point after the successful attempts by Louise Wright, Stephanie Jamieson and Dawn Axon.

“We dominated most of the game but it was one of those days when I thought we were never going to score” said Elks coach Ricky Lee.

“But it’s great to be back in the IHL as we want to improve year on year and it’s important to be in it with changes in the format coming into effect the following season”.

The last time that the Elks had qualified for the Irish Hockey League was 4 seasons ago. They have struggled to find the same form as they had in 2010, due to a number of their key players retiring.

 

 

DERRY HELD AT HOME BY PATS

Derry City were unlucky not to break their duck on Friday night with yet another chance at winning maximum points going begging. It ended nil all as Roddy Collins’ men hosted league champions St. Patrick’s Athletic at the Brandywell.

A goalless draw means a third straight draw at home for the Foylesiders, who will feel hard done by having seen the best chance of the match go begging in the dying embers of a game that at times was ill tempered and short on chances.

Michael Duffy, who recently signed a new contract with the Candystripes, saw a 93rd minute effort tipped over the bar by Pats ‘keeper Brendan Clarke. If such an effort had gone in it would have seen Derry’s fortunes transformed, instead the wait goes on for a first SSE Airtricity Premier League victory.

All in all, honors even seems a fair result. Friday night’s game was an entertaining draw even if it lacked the necessary goals and attacking football most fans at the game would have wanted. City should probably count their blessings as the visitors were denied what looked like a nail-on penalty in the first half. St. Pats striker Christy Fagan was brought down in the Derry penalty area by the towering figure of Ryan McBride only for the referee Paul McLaughlin to wave play on, much to the consternation of the travelling support.

Derry started the game quite brightly but saw that early impetus fade as current league-holders Pats came back with long-range efforts from Chris Forrester and former Derry player Killian Brennen. Both shots parried and caught respectively by the freshly recalled Ger Doherty.

Attacking highlights for the home side were restricted to the wider areas as the game went on with Derry wide men Dean Jarvis and Mark Stewart constantly running at their opposite numbers and attempting to centre the ball to the waiting Rory Patterson. A lot of effort with so little result demoralising an anxious home support.

As the game wore on play opened up somewhat. Derry forcing late corners that almost saw a vital breakthrough, indeed last season’s top goalscorer for the home side, Rory Patterson, should have scored a late winner, but the Derry striker blasted over from 12 yards.

All in all a fair result on the night, with both sides coming away with what will be seen on both sides as a vital point in a long and highly competitive league campaign.