Mild mannered? Us?

Ross Brown – face of a new, more combative Green Party?

A different side to the Green Party was on display at the weekend’s annual conference.

Up to now, the Greens have typically been regarded as a ‘nice,’  ‘mild mannered’ party. And while I agree that we should always be positive and constructive, avoiding oppositionism for its own sake, I can’t help but feel there are plenty of things to be angry about to justify a more combative approach at times.

Well, you got it. European Election nominee Ross Brown was unveiled to the world on Saturday and wasted no time delivering a long overdue wake-up call to our current leaders. In brief: the peace process is over. Relative absence of violence is no longer an adequate measure of success. Time to start delivering a better Northern Ireland.

I recently discussed Northern Ireland’s high level of fuel poverty on this blog.  Ross added our problems of child poverty and educational underachievement to the charge sheet. Perhaps his most damning indictment of how out of touch the Executive parties have become was the DUP’s recent motion at Stormont welcoming the growth of food banks across Northern Ireland. How could such a development possibly be welcomed? Only by the party embracing the Conservatives’ dismantling of the UK’s social safety net, condemning ever greater numbers of people to reliance on these services.

An economist by training and now part of the Green Party team at Stormont, Ross also reminded us that while the Executive is unable to find the £200 million it would cost to curb some of the worst excesses of the Welfare Reform Bill, Ministers are falling over themselves to hand a £400 million Christmas present to the biggest multinational companies in Northern Ireland in the form of a corporation tax cut.

This is going to be an entertaining election campaign.

Fr Tim Bartlett fears a ‘secular dictatorship’ if the Greens get into power – I hope we stick to the electoral route.

Rival parties were not the only ones upset. A motion passed in an earlier session calling for the secularisation of the education system got some of the panel members taking part in the day’s flagship debate on education a little hot under the (dog) collar.

Personally, I was delighted that my fellow Greens demonstrated their opposition to all forms of segregation – academic and social as well as religious – in our schools. The clerics on the panel decried what they perceived as an attack on parents’ right to bring up their children in their own faith. But what about the right of the child to make up his or her own mind on theological matters?

Fr Tim Bartlett’s claim on behalf of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools that the Greens seek to usher in a “secular dictatorship” was particularly ludicrous. Neither France’s laïcité nor the United States’ separation of church and state appear to have made much of a dent in religious observance; even in Eastern Europe decades of actively anti-religious rule appear to have had little impact outside the former East Germany.

Party leader Steven Agnew rounded off the day by declaring that the Greens will be doing a good job when we know we are “pissing people off.” On that basis, I would put Saturday down as a good day’s work.

Even Steven forgets his manners sometimes…

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About msimpsongpni

Mark Simpson is Environment spokesperson for the Green Party in Northern Ireland and Green Party coordinator in the Balmoral electoral area, Belfast.
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