I think it’s fair to say that green politics don’t feature strongly in Northern Ireland’s political culture. Due to the history of the Troubles, the main divide in NI politics is the nationalist-unionist one, and this showed in the articles Stephen Spillane, Frank Schittger and myself wrote about NI in the lead up to the European elections in June (Northern Ireland is a single constituency for the European Parliament under UK law).
But in the European elections, the Green candidate, Steven Agnew did better than ever, with 15,674 votes (I had a small email interview with him at the time of the election). Still a small number, though the numbers are going in the right direction. In the regional Assembly, the Greens have 1 MLA (Member of the legislative Assembly), Brian Wilson, in opposition. This is their first Assembly seat, and it’s one the Greens have high hopes of retaining in the next regional election – and hopes of perhaps even winning a second.
I went along to a meeting of student greens at my university to see how active green politics are at a student and local level.
Some of the Student Greens at QUB, with co-leaders Lois and Mark on the right
Political societies, like most societies in my university, tend not to be very mission-driven, and fall back to being purely social clubs, so it was great to see that the Green Society was quite active in its approach. The society is involved in several campaigns, both on green issues and on other issues, but what particularly stood out for me was how the society was both outward-looking as well as focused on more local issues. One of the more student-related issues was the creation of an environment-focussed committee in the Student Parliament, and a push with the executive of the Student’s Union building to make the Student’s Union building greener. The society also had links with the Green parties in the Republic of Ireland and in Britain, with delegations to party meetings in Ireland, and links with the MEP Caroline Lucas’ campaign for a seat in Westminster in the May general election.
The wider links (again reflected in the pan-European Green stance taken during the European elections) especially appealed to me, but the Green Party in Northern Ireland has quite a mountain to climb in terms of growth: the other party in NI not situated along one side of the nationalist-unionist divide has failed to turn itself into a major political force, despite being the largest opposition party in NI (the top 4 are in a consociational coalition). However, the Green Party may have the potential for a broader appeal given the prominence of the climate change issue. “Being Green” is seen as a somewhat important value in NI now – this was especially apparent when the current finance minister Sammy Wilson caused controversy over his anti-climate change views while he held the environmental portfolio.
Can the Greens build on the acceptance of the dangers of climate change to increase awareness and make more of a political impact? I hope so.
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
My latest post over at Think2: NI Green Politics. Thanks to the QUB Green Society for letting me sit in on their meeting!