Steven Agnew with QUB Greens (left to right) Bob, Lois and Mark.
A few weeks ago we emailed our mailing list giving members and supporters an opportunity to ask Steven Agnew, the Green Party EU Candidate in the recent EU election, their questions! We selected 10 of these questions and Steven has kindly answered them below!
We hope to conduct similar interviews with other notable Greens in the future! :-)
STEVEN AGNEW ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS
1. What was the highlight of your European Elections campaign and what was your worst experience?
I’ll give you my worst experience first because it led to my best experience.
There was a hustings hosted by the Northern Ireland Independent Retailers Trade Association in the Europa hotel that included guests from the Institute of Directors, CBI, and Federation of Small Businesses etc. Basically a cross section of NI’s business community.
I was nervous about this event for a number of reasons. Unlike other hustings hosted by the likes of NICVA, Amnesty etc when I knew I would have a sympathetic audience, I felt I was walking into a room full of people who wouldn’t take the Green Party seriously.
Also our message was around the Green Economy and creating jobs. If we were to get anywhere with this message we needed these guys on board.
Essentially I’d beaten myself before I went in. I was convinced I would fail and so I did. I stepped up to the platform to make my speech and one of the mics fell off. It went down hill from there. I blanked mid speech, which I never do – I couldn’t remember the term ‘environmental goods and services’ and probably said something like ‘the global market for environmental . . . . eh . . . . stuff . . . . is estimated at over £3000bn’. But by that point the message was lost, I’d choked and that was what people would remember.
What I needed to remember was that CBI are part of the Green New Deal Coalition. These people are already on board. I had the strongest message on that platform and all I had to do was deliver it.
Anyway, the next day was the manifesto launch. To that point I’d been reworking the same speech for each event. Two hours before the launch I tore it up. Stupid thing to do. Wrote a new speech. Was stressed, angry (with myself), but determined to go in and nail this. And did.
There were journalists from BBC, UTV and all the main NI newspapers.
I was on a platform with Doctor John Barry legendary politics lecturer, former GPNI leader, and the man who inspired me to get active in the Green Party. Doctor Mark Bailey, economics lecturer, new Chair of GPNI, and the font of all knowledge. And Alderman Brian Wilson MLA, a former economics lecturer, 30 years experience in politics, and my boss.
They couldn’t get a word in.
I delivered my speech as it was in my head. Each question that came, I batted it back. Job done.
Hearts and Minds was another high point because I love watching that show and it was a great feeling to be on there and to get my Ian Knox caricature. I didn’t know the questions in advance but was well prepared for them when they came. I was pleased with my answers as I delivered them as they were in my head. I found out about a week later that 70,000 people had watched the show that night.
2. How do you feel about your result in the EU election?
More people voted Green in NI than had ever done so before. We beat our own target for number of votes even though the number of people voted was way down (42% turnout compared to around 60% in the Assembly elections). I had even said privately that even though it was unlikely I’d love to get over 15,000.
When the vote came in at 15,674 I was well pleased.
3. What sort of advantages do you think the EU can bring to N.I directly?
I hope this changes but the current Northern Ireland Executive are leading us nowhere. It’s great that the Assembly is up and running and we have local democracy but now our local politicians have to step up to the plate and govern.
Without the EU we’d have virtually no environmental protection. We’d still think the answer to our waste problem is to bury it. Renewable energy would still be seen as some hippy fantasy. And human rights would still be caught up in some Unionist/Nationalist stalemate.
In fact to some extent these things haven’t changed, but because of European directives they have to.
4. Alliance Party... Yay or Nay??
Good question. When I work out what they stand for I’ll let you know.
Obviously we work together with Alliance in the Assembly and we share a certain amount of common ground in terms of working for all the people of Northern Ireland. But we’re also a global party, one branch of a worldwide movement whereas Alliance are very much a party of ‘the Troubles’. I also see Alliance as being a fundamentally more conservative party than ourselves.
However I think it is important that we work together where we do share common ground to bring voters away from the old politics of division and increase the pool of votes that, come election time, we will be competing for.
I think we have more to offer than Alliance. Whereas their core is in not being sectarian, this is assumed within the Green Party, as is our support for other equality issues. We never needed to have a debate within the Party as to whether or not we would support gay marriage as equality is a core Green principle that is there for all to see.
We are also unique as a party in Northern Ireland in that you can be a unionist Green or a nationalist Green without there being any contradiction. As a party in support of cultural-diversity as well as bio-diversity we must realise that these cultural traditions have value and we are not here to simply whitewash over these traditions. However our members recognise that this does not necessarily have to result in division as we are united around our social, environmental and economic policies. The constitution of Northern Ireland is in the hands of the people and no party can or should look to change that.
5. How do you respond to people who think the Green Party is simply a single issue party?
People think that Green means environment but I don’t think they really think about what is meant by the term ‘environment’. Most people think of trees and green fields, but the environment is simply where we live and being Green is about how we live in every aspect of our lives.
Take energy as an example. Firstly we have to reduce the amount we use through energy efficient measures such as insulation, energy saving light bulbs etc. Then we have to lessen the impacts of energy production so we need to shift away from fossil fuels and use more renewable forms of energy production.
Of course these measures will help cut our carbon emissions which will help in the fight against climate change. But this type of shift will do so much more.
As well as reducing CO2 emissions we also reduce toxins that are released when we burn fossil fuels which will improve our air quality and have a positive impact on health. Energy efficiency measures will help householders reduce their fuel bills and help tackle fuel poverty. Producing energy locally will help create jobs providing a boost to the local economy. 98% of our energy is currently imported. So essentially every time you pay your electricity bill for gas bill you are sending money out of our economy. If the Assembly is so focussed on growing the local economy how can they not see that more towards renewables is an integral part of this?
So one Green Party policy will have an impact on the economy, social development, health, and climate change.
In fact when I joined the Green Party I was much more interested in issues of social justice than I was environmental issues, so if it was all about simply saving trees I don’t think I would have joined.
6. As a former student of QUB what are your recollections of political activism here?
I have very few recollections of student politics and that wasn’t simply because I was drunk all the time.
To be honest I wasn’t interested in politics back then. To me politics meant unionism versus nationalism and that never particularly interested me.
I do remember Simon Doyle who was then the editor of The Gown (now writes for the Irish News I think). He stood for Student Union President under the banner “Vote for me. I’m the only one taking the piss”. I think he came third.
I also remember there was this idea of a unionist chill factor in the Student’s Union, which I never understood. As someone from a unionist background I can’t say I ever felt ‘the chill’ but maybe that was due to the alcohol.
Instead I got involved with RAG which ties in with the whole social justice side of things. We raised quite a bit for local charities, but it was also a good way of meeting people some of whom I’m still friends with today.
7. In light of scientific consensus that energy consumption will continue to increase do you feel that the Green Party should adopt policies to promote more modern safer installations of nuclear power rather than renewables?
No. We neither need nor want nuclear power in Northern Ireland.
It would take 25 years to construct a nuclear power plant so it will not help towards the fight against climate change.
No nuclear power plant to date has been financially self sustaining; all nuclear power requires massive subsidies from the government, so there is no economic argument for nuclear power.
There is still no solution to the problem of nuclear waste though Sammy Wilson would have you bury it in your back garden if Gordon Brown offered enough money. But if we went full scale down the nuclear route there wouldn’t be enough back gardens in which to bury the waste.
The All Island Grid Study shows that Ireland as a whole can produce 42% of its electricity from renewables by 2020 and this is what we should be aiming for.
George Monbiot has not, as some have suggested, joined the nuclear lobby but has suggested that if the waste issue was addressed and all emissions from ‘mine to dump’ are taken into account then nuclear power could be considered. I think if we were to look at total cost and total emissions of nuclear power the case for nuclear just doesn’t stand.
8. Hypothetically if the Greens gained more influence in the Assembly and were able to get one piece of legislation passed what would you personally wish it to be?
I think it would have to be that Northern Ireland must meet specific CO2 reduction targets and renewable energy targets not just by 2050 but within each term of the Assembly.
Currently we are signed up to the UK Climate Change Act which commits the UK as a whole to cut CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. However we need year on year monitoring of our progress and interim targets. Targets for 2050 are grand but if you’ve an essay for June your unlikely to look at it until May. Similarly I’m concerned we won’t start to take action on climate change until it is too late. That’s why I think that each Programme for Government should commit the Assembly to CO2 reduction targets within the Assembly term. Then we would have something by which to assess our politicians’ performance and add some much needed urgency.
9. How do you feel about the renewed programme for government in the Republic of Ireland and the Fianna Fail coalition?
I remain positive about the Greens being in government and believe that the renewed programme for government represents a victory for the Greens. Obviously as the minority partner in government we cannot get everything our own way, but if you look at the measures on climate change, the guarantee their will be no third level education fees, 2:1 ratio spend on public vs private transport (in NI its 1:5 public:private), as examples, we are punching well above our weight.
Remember we have 6 TDs compared to Fianna Fail’s 77, yet we’ve managed to play quite a big role in influencing policy.
People will point out that we have suffered electorally but I believe that while the party vote has been damaged by the Greens being in government, Ireland is better off. I think you should get elected to change policy, not change policy to get elected.
10. With Copenhagen drawing near how do you feel Northern Ireland can play its part in tackling climate change?
We need to set our own targets, as I outlined above. Then we need to meet them.
But I think that the First and Deputy First Minister should show leadership by attending the talks in Copenhagen. However I don’t think they can or will lead on Green issues and that is why when people ask me why if we still need the Greens when everyone knows about climate change and what needs to be done, that I am more convinced than ever of the need for a strong Green voice. Even when the problem is blatantly obvious our political leaders delay on making the necessary changes. I’m just glad John Gormley will be in Copenhagen showing Sammy Wilson how a real Environment Minister can lead the way.