Category Archives: Politics

Unionist’s left unhappy with council’s decision to put Irish first on its signage.

The first of April saw the rise of the new council structure in Northern Ireland as local councils were given more power in their community. However many unionists are unhappy with the new changes which include putting Irish first of council signage as well as a ban on poppy selling within some local councils.

The councils in Northern Ireland have a big say in running our local community. They carry out necessary tasks that many of us take for granted such as environmental health, rubbish collection and marriages. However the council system has changed dramatically over the last few months.

On the first of April of this year the government decided to decrease the number of councils in Northern Ireland, this was done to make our councils run more efficiently and to save money in the long run. Before the change was implemented there were twenty six councils in Northern Ireland, now there are only eleven. Although the number of councils has decreased the role of these councils has dramatically increased as the ‘super councils’ now have more responsibilities which include planning and parking.

The Eleven New Super Councils within Northern Ireland

 

Although these changes are for the better many are not happy with the changes their councils have made to the area. In some of the more nationalist areas of the country such as the Newry, Mourne and Down have decided to make Irish their primary language on their signage, letterheads and vehicles. The Mid Ulster Council have also stopped the selling of poppies within their council buildings. These decisions have resulted in what some refer to as a ‘cold house’ for unionist members of the community.

Within the Newry, Mourne and Down Council Sinn Fein Cllr Barra O’Muiri proposed that the Irish Language should come before the English Language and when placed side by side it should be on the left. This would occur on any council signage and letterheads. This vote was passed with fourteen votes to five. As members of the council and its community are mainly nationalist this vote was not surprising for locals.

Barra O’Muiri commented on his proposal. He said that this was, ‘a lasting and meaningful contribution towards building a strong and united community. It will not in any way threaten or displace the English Language but sit alongside it as a living and vibrant language.”

Many unionist members of the community are annoyed and disheartened by this vote. DUP Nelson McCausland is angry at the proposal and its result. He said, “This is another attempt by nationalists and republicans to assert their dominance in that area, whilst some would like to present this as a petty argument over a letterheads it is actually a deeper issue about a council and whether it values all its citizens equally or whether it will use the Promotion of the Irish language as a tool to exclude others. He continues to say that ‘The English is the language of proper communication on Northern Ireland and should remain first on the signage.

Newry, Mourne and Down Council’s new signage

Members of the DUP are not the only party to take this stance of the issue. Brendan Curran an independent Newry Cllr said, “They are using it as a political football as I know they are not too active in organising and supporting Irish language classes in the area. The introduction of the Irish language has to be done in a sensitive way, it shouldn’t be shoved down people’s throats.”

Mark Murphy (24) from Ballyward lives within the Newry, Mourne and Down Council. He does not agree with the change. He said, “I am annoyed at the new change as I do not think it reflects the district, within Newry City Centre people communicate using many languages. As Irish is the fourth most popular in the city I do believe that it should be first.”

He continues, “I do not mind it being on the signage but I think the English language should come first, as it is the most widely spoken and understood language throughout the world, therefore it can be understood by everyone who lives here and people who come to visit from other countries. I myself live in this country and cannot read or pronounce Irish, so how can we expect tourists to understand it.”

Judging by these comments many people are hurt and angry at the change, as many unionist members of the community cannot speak Irish nor do they want their language to be considered second best to others. Everyone recognises that Northern Ireland is trying to move on from its past. To some this decision means equality but to others it means that their heritage and language is being considered second best.

Mid Ulster signage

It comes as no surprise that Sinn Fein and the SDLP back these plans for the Irish Language and this could see the emergence of three other nationalist super councils. These include Mid Ulster, Derry and Strabane and Fermanagh and Omagh. As the Vote has been cast and passed in Newry, Mourne and Down these other councils are starting to follow suit as Mid Ulster has also changed their signage in which Irish is situated before English.

 

Local council worries that rural areas will not benefit from Broadband improvement plans

The Fermanagh and Omagh council are worried that a project planning to improve broadband in Northern Ireland will not benefit rural areas.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have collaboratively invested £23.7m into a project to improve broadband in Northern Ireland.

The project, called the Northern Ireland Broadband Improvement Project (NIBIP) will aim to increase the availability of Superfast Broadband in areas were internet connectivity is currently poor or low.

The project will introduce a new broadband system into Northern Ireland called fibre optic broadband (or Superfast Broadband) which uses fibre optic cables to increase the speed of internet connections. The introduction of the fibre broadband connection will be delivered through two different types of infrastructures:

fibre-street-cabinet

Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC)

Through this method, fibre optic cables are connected from the telephone exchange or distribution point to an existing or new roadside cabinet (see the photograph above).

Fibre to the home/premises (FTTH or FTTP)

This will provide an end-to-end fibre optic connection. It will run the full distance from the exchange to the home or business premises.

Below is a video explaining the connection process

 

The project will be implemented into designated areas of Northern Ireland in accordance to household and business postcodes. The DETI has explained that this method of delivery has been used to accommodate the large area in which the project is planning to cover. The project will be implemented in eight phases between February 2014 and December 2015. This process will see some postcodes enabled before others. Some postcodes have even been left off the list altogether. This has caused concern among those who have been left off the list and will miss out on the broadband improvements.

See if your postcode is included on the list: http://www.online.detini.gov.uk/Broadband/Start.aspx 

The Fermanagh and Omagh council have raised concerns about this project. They believe rural areas, which would account for most of their council area, will not benefit from these improvements. In particular, they blame the fact that the project, and previous projects, have not being ring-fenced specifically for rural areas.

The DETI have defneded the projects decisions to pinpoint certain areas for improvement. They said they conducted extensive research before deciding which areas to target through the project. These assessments were carried out in conjunction with B.T. They evaluated financial and technical constraints, and ‘the best possible use of public funding’ to achieve best value for money.

Arlene Foster, Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment has directly responded to the issues raised by the council. She has stated that although it is thought by some that rural areas are not being targeted, she believes, “that is not the case”. In a letter to the council she emphasized that this project is specifically geared towards helping rural areas. The letter also pointed out that, to date the project has improved broadband access in over 17,500 homes, including 3,000 homes in the Fermanagh and Omagh Council area.

The Enterprise Minister admitted that after the completion of the NIBIP, “the needs of all premises may not be met”. She explained that in light of this the DETI is planning to fund a further project with an investment of over £14m to continue to work and increase the reach of Superfast Broadband by 2017. She added that this additional investment will also include improving internet connection for postcodes within the Fermanagh and Omagh area.

The concerns raised by the council are not stand alone as they have been echoed by concerned residents of the council area.

Ann Curran, who lives in the countryside in Fermanagh believes she would be better off not having any internet than paying for a service which she calls “temperamental”. She explains that her sons who are studying for their GCSE’s depend on the internet for their school work. Mrs Curran said she feels a constant sense of frustration when trying to connect to her internet. And on occasions the lack of internet in their home has resulted in her sons not being able to complete their school assignments.

She said, “It’s not fair that we are paying the same price for internet as everyone else, yet we can go for days at a time without the right access”. When asked about her feelings towards the NIBIP, she said, “I would really love for it to happen (the broadband improvements) but I have been disappointed with these sorts of promises before. The internet in the town might improve with it but I doubt us being in the countryside will get any of the benefits”.

Another rural B.T Broadband user uploaded a video about her internet experiences to youtube in the form of a comical short which won her competition with NI Broadband in 2013.

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.

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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:

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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.

Cervical cancer – Awareness and prevention in Northern Ireland

Every day in the UK, nine women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and three lives are lost to the disease, a major charity has warned.

In Northern Ireland, women are invited to cervical screening appointments at the age of 25. However, the uptake of women attending smear tests is lower than the rest of the UK with one in four women ignoring the invitation completely.

Health Minister, Edwin Poots said: “Raising public awareness of cervical cancer prevention is important because in Northern Ireland almost a quarter of women still do not attend for cervical screening, however there has been a steady increase in the proportion of eligible women attending for cervical screening.”

Reasons for this figure include confusion, embarrassment, fear and a lack of convenient appointment times for working women. Many women are unaware of the symptoms of the disease, such as lower back pain, which can often be misdiagnosed as minor ailments. However the consequences of a missed smear test can be very severe.

Cervical Cancer factboxes
Cervical Cancer factboxes

It is because of this that Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust launched Cervical Cancer Awareness Week at the beginning of this year to help increase awareness of the issue. Bus campaigns were launched in January along with the first ever support group meeting for people affected by the disease.

Michelle Roe is leading the Belfast support group and has previously been diagnosed with the illness.

She said: “I had advanced cervical cancer myself and Jo’s Trust was a lifeline to me when I was going through treatment. I wanted to help other women, so I heard about the group being set up and have been working for them since September.”

Since her diagnosis, Michelle has undergone a radical hysterectomy and had her ovaries and lymph nodes removed. She suffers from bowel damage, lymphoedema, infertility and going through the menopause in her thirties. In addition, Michelle has completed more than 40 sessions of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and internal radiotherapy. Michelle has emphasised the need to educate women on how this cancer can be prevented.

She added: “Please don’t put off having your smear, a few minutes of discomfort could save your life or having to go through all that painstaking treatment I went through, which compared to a smear is nothing.”

Donna Hand is also leading the support group and began her training last year. Her role is to facilitate support group meetings within the Belfast area to help provide support to women living with or beyond cancer.

She said: “Our first meeting was really to establish the group, we talked about Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust and its history and what the charity aims to achieve and then it was really an open forum discussion for women to talk about cervical cancer and their experiences.”

“We have had a positive response from all those who attended our first meeting. As the group is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, the nursing professionals who attended are delighted that Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust are investing its services here in Northern Ireland and have already and I know will be a great support in referring patients to the group in the future,” she added.

Prior to her role with the charity, Donna supported her mother and aunt who both lost their lives to cancer. In addition, she was personally treated for abnormal cells in 2005, which may have progressed into cancer later on in life if they had not been discovered in regular smear tests.

She said: “For me, the past five years has been a rollercoaster of emotion and I still find it hard to comprehend life without my mum but I know that she would be extremely proud of me and the voluntary work that I am doing with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.”

There was a large increase in the number of women attending screening in 2008, following Jade Goody diagnosis. Since then, figures have fallen back to pre-2008 levels.

Donna said: “I fully understand the power of celebrity but feel that it is very sad when that’s what it takes for women to take notice and attend screening.”

“I can’t stress enough how vitally important it is for ladies to attend regular screening and look after their health,” she added.

The Department of Health has implemented a four year action plan from 2012 – 2015 to help promote informed choice in cancer screening which has been developed by the Public Health Agency. This includes actions to promote cervical screening.

Health Minister Edwin Poots stressed: “I would urge all women to take up her invite for cervical screening when asked to do so. The message is clear – screening saves lives.”

 

Councillors pleased with improvements to North Coast rail lines

BY JAYNE MCCORMACK

The Derry/Londonderry train line has seen a "major refurbishment"
The Derry/Londonderry train line has seen a “major refurbishment”

Coleraine councillors were told of the huge transformation to the North Coast’s railway system at their meeting on Tuesday, 19 February.

Mal McGreevy, general manager of rail services at Translink, said that there had been a 70% increase in the number of trains operating between Belfast to Coleraine and Coleraine to Belfast.

He told councillors that Translink was “very grateful to Coleraine” and that the new timetable, which came into effect on 6 January 2013, meant that there were now 19 trains operating to Coleraine every weekday, with 16 operating on Saturdays and at least 7 on Sundays – a huge boost for the town’s transport.

Councillors were also pleased to hear that passenger numbers were up 10-15% from last year.

Mr McGreevy spoke about the re-opening of part of the Derry/Londonderry line, which has undergone a “major refurbishment” and confirmed that the line would be accessible again from Saturday, 24 March, a week ahead of schedule.

He said the first morning train would arrive in Derry/Londonderry at 8.25am on Monday, 25 March and added, “There has never been a train arriving in Derry/Londonderry before 9am before.”

Cllr David Harding was the first to commend Translink for their efforts. He said, “The people of Castlerock are excited, and people out there have missed the line badly.”

Cllr David McClarty said, “Not too long ago we were predicting the demise of railway in Northern Ireland and now it has been totally resurrected.”

Another issue high on the agenda was the 2013 Somme Association pilgrimage to the Somme, France from 28 June to 2 July.

The pilgrimage will mark the 97th anniversary of the battle, and councillors debated over who should attend.  They agreed to send Cllr Gerry McLaughlin, whose father fought in the Somme, and the outgoing Mayor, Samuel Cole.

The council normally sends the incoming mayor and a councillor to the pilgrimage, but Mr McClarty proposed an amendment, arguing that, “The incoming mayor is a busy person” and that outgoing Mayor Cole should attend because he was too busy to attend as incoming mayor in 2012.

All councillors voted in favour of the amendment, and Cllr Yvonne Boyle said it would be a “wonderful” opportunity for Mr McLaughlin.

The council also considered proposals for a 24-month pilot project to deliver a free, public Wi-Fi service on Portrush beaches.

A free Wi-Fi service will be piloted for 24 months on Portrush beaches
A free Wi-Fi service will be piloted for 24 months on Portrush beaches

When asked by Cllr Barbour if he envisaged people using their computers on the beach, Alan Jeffers, Regeneration Manager of the Portrush Regeneration programme, said that computers and Wi-Fi provisions are “very much a part of the new generation.”

 

 

For more information about Coleraine Borough Council, visit their website.

Fracking Future to be Decided

 

fracking oil pump

The possibility of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, in Northern Ireland could be decided within the next 12 months.

The Northern Ireland Assembly passed a moratorium in December 2011 by 49 votes to 30 to allow more time to assess the safety of the procedure, which Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster is yet to introduce. However, Australian company Tamboran are hopeful of starting to extract gas in Fermanagh in 2014.

The fracking procedure involves pumping up to 10 million gallons of water, sand and chemicals into gaps in shale rock hundreds of metres below the ground. This process is intended to fracture the rock, releasing methane gas in doing so. The released gas is then collected in a well located onshore. However, opponents say that too little is known about the process and that an environmental assessment is necessary before continuing.

frack

Phil Flanagan, Sinn Féin MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, said that his party are against fracking and that his constituents were “overwhelmingly opposed” to the idea.

He said, “Sinn Féin are opposed to fracking for a number of reasons; the damage that will be done to the landscape, the industrialisation of rural Ireland will devastate tourism, the potential for water contamination is much too great and the additional noise and air pollution that will come with this would be very unwelcome.”

He also claimed, “Fracking will not cause a reduction in energy prices as each pad costs million of pounds to frack. These pads have only become economically viable as a result of recent energy price rises and its success is reliant on continuing price rises.”

Fermanagh resident Elaine Fullerton echoed these views, and told of her worry if fracking is given the go-ahead.

She said, “I wasn’t entirely sure what fracking was until last year, but after a bit of research I can say that I don’t want to see it in Northern Ireland let alone Fermanagh. The evidence points to how unsafe it is, I can’t possibly see how it can be made safe.”

“All we can do is hope the government think of something other than the money it can raise. It isn’t worth the risk, especially if someone could be injured or killed.”

Fracking has already been introduced by other countries. President Barack Obama is a supporter of fracking, although it has been banned in several states including New York and Vermont. There have been numerous reports of incidents involving fracking in the US, including water contamination and small explosions. France, Bulgaria and South Africa are amongst other countries to ban the process.

Despite these incidents, there are arguments for the introduction of fracking in Northern Ireland.  Gas reserves in North West Ireland are estimated to be worth over £80bn, with prices rising. Gas collected by fracking companies can be used as a source of energy for Ireland as well as sold abroad to other countries.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell said that fracking was not a black and white issue.

He said, “There are concerns of environmental damage, which were less of a concern three years ago, but there is a potentially cheaper form of energy to be gained. If there is potentially some damage then the more concerned I would be.”

He continued, “I would be prepared to contemplate further survey work but I wouldn’t be prepared to rule fracking out completely.”

Ballinamallard local Niall Burke is in favour of fracking, but stressed only if it could be done in a safe and environmentally friendly way.

He said, “I know fracking involves the use of certain chemicals. I’d be against this as I try to be as economically friendly as I can and this would do a great deal of damage. If it can be done somehow without the use of these chemicals then I don’t see why not.

“It would bring a lot of money into Northern Ireland at a difficult time, especially when flag protestors have damaged the country’s reputation to an extent.”

In an interview last year with Natural Gas Europe, CEO of Tamboran Richard Moorman said that the company “will abide by strict environmental policies to ensure that shale gas excavation will not damage the environment in Northern Ireland and will continue to follow the directives of the government in these matters.”

He continued, “Despite the misinformation spread by anti-development groups, we know our operations are safe. With over 4 million wells drilled worldwide, and over 1 million of those hydraulically fractured, there is no question that natural gas can be safely produced in Northern Ireland for the benefit of its citizens and local communities.”

For now, fracking in Northern Ireland has been put on the backburner. The future for this controversial process lies with further tests and environmental assessments to be carried out over the coming year.

Thatcher’s ghost will continue to haunt Britain’s EU relations

150346380-1Europe may have been the issue that led to Baroness Thatcher’s political downfall in 1990, but 23 years later, in the wake of her recent death, it appears that she might just yet win in her fight against an United States of Europe.

When news broke of her death, David Cameron was on a European tour to assure leaders that the UK would stay within a reformed EU when it comes referendum time.  

The audacity of Britain negotiating its membership and, worse, subjecting it to a popular referendum, irks EU leaders. They realize British independence and European integration are simply not compatible.  Either power ultimately resides in the peoples of Europe through their national parliaments or in the ministers and bankers.

A more centralised Europe might be more efficient in governance than the current mess but it certainly will not advance the cause of democracy. Even if the commissioners are popularly elected, the EU is too large and diverse to have a common public sphere where ideas can be debated and decisions made between the European peoples.

Unlike the pro-EU reading of history, which blames European wars on nationalism, Thatcher laid the blame on attempts to unite the continent and correctly saw the EU as another artificial empire.

In its pursuit for more control, the modern nation-state is naturally inclined to curb human freedom at every chance it gets, but national governments are still accountable to the public to an extent that the EU could never be.

“We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed on a European level,” Thatcher said in her 1988 Bruges speech.

Two years later, in her final speech as Prime Minister, she recognised that “a single currency is … a Federal Europe by the back door.”

While the European Central Bank would be “accountable to no one, least of all to national parliaments.  Because the point of that kind of European Central Bank is no democracy; taking powers away from every single parliament and being able to have a single currency and a monetary policy and an interest rate, which takes all political power away from us.”

Thatcher defined the UK’s relationship first with the European Economic Community, then secured the British rebate and when the EEC was superseded by the EU, she drew the battle lines in the public opinion that has defined the debate of EU membership ever since.

It’s little wonder that when the time comes for the UK to decide on the EU, the British people’s response might very well echo Thatcher’s last speech as Prime Minister of “No. No. No.”