Cunningham calls for big turnout at “fracking meeting”

31 05 2012

Ballycastle SDLP Councillor Dónal Cunningham has called for the local community to turn out in big numbers at a meeting organised by the gas company in order to show their opposition to the potential use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in any gas exploration in the onshore Rathlin Basin.

Rathlin Energy a wholly owned subsidiary of Canadian company Connaught Oil & Gas Ltd were granted an exploration licence by DETI on 15 February 2011, the company have carried out testing in the Ballinlea area and are now writing to residents inviting them to a meeting at the test site well on 7th June between 4 and 8pm .

A proposal brought to Moyle Council in October 2011 by Councillor Cunningham “opposing the possibility of the use of hydraulic fracturing in any stage of the gas explorations in the Rathlin Basin” was unanimously approved.

Cunningham congratulates Rathlin Development and Community Association

29 05 2012

Ballycastle SDLP Councillor Dónal Cunningham has warmly welcomed the decision by Moyle District Council to grant aid Rathlin Development and Community Association’s funding for their Renewable Energy Project through the Community Infrastructure Fund.

The Project which proposes to install a 3 bladed 250kw wind turbine, will be the first community managed renewable energy project of its kind in the North. It will move the island further away from its reliance on fossil fuels and help develop Rathlin as a carbon neutral island generating electricity from renewable sources

The award of £4,225 will be used to fund technical costs and surveys required to bring the project to planning application stage.

” This is an excellent project, it presents fantastic opportunities in terms of community empowerment and as an environmental project. As well as the obvious environmental advantages of renewable energy, it also offers the island community the opportunity to generate income and employment. I congratulate the dynamism of the Rathlin Development and Community Association in particular the dedication to this project displayed by their newly elected Chairman Michael Cecil and wish them every success in this and other projects”

Power sharing key for Moyle

27 05 2012

In advance of the AGM of Moyle District Council, Dónal Cunningham has urged parties and political groupings to enter into the true spirit of power sharing and to consider very carefully the choices they have previously made for the years in which they will take up their dHondt entitlement for the positions of Council chair and vice chair.
“We are faced with the prospect that Moyle District Council once a model of power-sharing and co-operation failing in the next three years (possibly the last three years of its existence) to live up to it’s previous high standards with single identity representation in both positions in all three years.”
“The positions of chair and vice chair are the most visible sign of local democratic leadership and I am convinced that the local community want to see partnership working. If either the DUP, Sinn Féin or the Independent grouping can agree to swap their choice of year for vice chairmanship, then two of these years will have a partnership in the Council’s top two positions .
Partnership threatens no one and will provide the basis for a stronger, more proactive democratic leadership, one that closer to all sections of the community. In the current economic climate, partnership will give confidence to local businesses, the voluntary and community sector.”
“The Council needs to be seen to be working in partnership in order to take advantage of very limited economic opportunities and deliver the best possible outcomes for the community.”

Ballycastle’s razor-wired pier is like a Soviet gulag

26 05 2012

Belfast Telegraph Article by Lesley-Anne McKeown Saturday, 26 May 2012

It is one of Northern Ireland’s busiest harbours. But complaints that Ballycastle seafront looks more like a Soviet gulag than a welcoming tourist resort have been increasing.

And now an online petition has been set up calling for a reduction in the amount of fencing and wire around the harbour.

SDLP councillor in Ballycastle, Donal Cunningham, who is leading the campaign, said the amount of of razor wire and fencing was unacceptable.

“I accept that there is a need for a level of security, but I question the need for high fencing and razor wire,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“The high fencing in place along the main jetty area is extreme, unsightly and unwelcoming for the increasing numbers of Ballycastle’s tourists, residents and ferry passengers.

“The harbour area was once a pleasant and open area enjoyed by many. If the security concerns are no longer pertinent, then removal of this unnecessary fencing would be in keeping with other recent harbour and seafront improvements.”

One Rathlin boatman, who declined to be named, said: “In Ballycastle we have been left with a harbour complex that was originally designed to house the Campbeltown-Ballycastle ferry service.

“That service has long gone but we have been left with its rusting razor wire, locked gates and an appearance that resembles a Soviet gulag. This fencing and Moyle Council’s enforcement of locking gates of a publicly funded facility is another restriction of our rights as islanders to access the mainland when we want and need.

“Not only does it stop us as islanders from rightly using this public facility but also the entire district of Moyle should have the right to access their local harbour as freely as in Portrush, Greencastle or Campbeltown.

“The current charade of locked gates that people have to climb over is just that, with no reason for their continued |existence. Another buzz word we hear from council is ‘tourism’. These rusting fences, locked gates and empty piers are a serious detriment to tourism in our area.”

A spokesman for the Rathlin Island Community Development Association said: “The harbour area used to be a pleasant and open area enjoyed by many, as are many of the other ports along our Causeway Coastal Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

“The ferry terminal, car park and ferry berth are currently in use, though not as intensively as planned given the absence of the Campbeltown service as originally intended.”

It is understood a report being considered by senior staff within Moyle Council has recommended a reduction of fencing, particularly around the main jetty and old pier.

“Moyle needs Investment not Austerity to get back on its feet “

21 05 2012

Ballycastle SDLP Councillor Dónal Cunningham has expressed his concerns at the lack of details in the Social Investment Fund recently announced by the OFMDFM and has called on the Assembly Executive to prioritize jobs and investment to help the local economy cope with the economic crisis.
“Moyle has seen nothing from the Assembly Executive. The OFMDFM plan for a Social Investment Fund lacks clarity and transparency, all we know is that Moyle will be part of a bigger “Northern” regional group, one of nine areas. In the face of Westminster cuts, investing wisely is more important than ever, and capital investment projects are the only effective way of stimulating the economy. Yet despite rising unemployment, and the struggle that faces many families, the Assembly Executive have failed to bring forward a single new investment project which would benefit Moyle.
“Investment, and not austerity, is what is needed for the Moyle economy.”

Extreme Energy – In Perspective column by Martin Empson, May 2012

18 05 2012

Another excellent article on fracking – from a socialist perspective

The panic that ensued when tanker drivers threatened to strike recently brought home the absolute centrality of oil to our modern economy.

Oil has been in the news recently, not least because the first few months of 2012 saw some of the highest ever prices for crude. The threat of war on Iran, instability in oil-rich Nigeria and the ongoing economic crisis combined to push prices above $125 a barrel. This is below the record of $147 set in July 2008, but the weakness of the pound and euro means that, in reality, the price is much worse for European consumers.

This short-term peak in prices has roots in these immediate events. But there is a longer-term trend pushing up oil prices. For almost a century the industry has been expanding on the enormous profits that can be made from readily accessible oil. Now this “easy” oil is running out and increasingly the multinationals have to turn to harder to access “extreme energy”. There is still debate about whether we have reached peak oil – the point when the maximum rate of production of oil is reached. Some studies suggest we have passed it, others say that it is just around the corner. Once that peak passes, more and more effort has to be put in to extract oil. In other words, it becomes more expensive.

As a result, even if the economic crisis passes, oil prices will continue to rise as demand outstrips supply. In order to keep the fuel flowing, oil companies have to exploit resources of gas and oil that were not previously economically viable, or could not be touched because they were in environmentally sensitive areas.

Politicians around the globe have proved sensitive to the needs of the oil industry and there is likely to be increased pressure on them to allow drilling and mining in previously forbidden areas.

Of course, this is not new. As part of its attempts to reduce its reliance on foreign oil, the US has been allowing oil companies to access new sources of hydrocarbons for several decades. An attempt by George W Bush in the mid-2000s to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska was blocked by Congress. But other expansions did go ahead.

This did not stop when the oil-president was replaced by Obama. A few weeks before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Obama gave the go ahead for oil and gas drilling at new offshore sites in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and areas of the Atlantic.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster sums up the difficulties of relying on extreme energy. Before the explosion, which killed 11 workers and released five million barrels of crude oil into the sea, the rig was drilling some of the most remote oil ever accessed.

Operating in water a mile deep, Deepwater Horizon was drilling two and a half miles below the seabed. The technical complications associated with drilling like this made solving the leak extremely difficult. The ecological consequences have been horrific.

It is enormously energy intensive to access oil like this. In the past, traditional oil rigs might have had a return of something like 100 times the energy put in – in short you burn a barrel of oil to get 100 back. With rigs like Deepwater Horizon, the return is something like four to one.

Canada’s Tar Sands represent extreme energy in all its appalling reality. An area the size of England has been deforested while indigenous peoples have seen their communities poisoned. Enormous quantities of natural gas are burnt to provide the energy to get the oil from the sand, producing five times as much greenhouse gas as conventional forms. While little of the tar sands oil reaches Britain, some of the funding for it comes from the Royal Bank of Scotland, which reaps large profits from the destruction of Alberta.

Another form of extreme energy that has reached the UK is hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. This is a method of getting at shale gas – natural gas that is trapped deep in the ground in tiny spaces in rocks. Conventional drills cannot get at this, so instead very high pressure fluids are pumped into the rock, fracturing it and releasing the gas. What exactly is in the fluid is a trade secret, though the cocktail of chemicals has caused contamination of ground water at sites in the US. As you can see on YouTube, some residents have found their tap water becomes flammable following fracking in the vicinity of their homes. The first test drilling in Lancashire was suspended recently when it produced two minor earthquakes.

The problem with getting all this fuel from the ground is that we already have so much that when it is burnt, it will cause catastrophic climate change. Extracting more hydrocarbons can only accelerate that process.

Here in the UK campaigners have been organising in the locations where companies want to get fracking. A recent conference in Manchester brought together many groups with the direct action organisation Frack-Off. The result was a national anti-fracking network.

One of the interesting things about the conference was the way that campaigners had made the jump from opposing fracking “in their backyard” to making the links to environmental and economic questions. But it is not enough to say, “Leave the oil in the ground” – we have to find real alternatives and the campaign for “One Million Climate Jobs” fits well in this context.

Extreme energy sources raise fundamental questions about the economic system we live in. The fight against extreme energy is also a fight against the very soul of an irrational system.

Martin Empson, May 2012

The Heineken “All- Ireland” Final

18 05 2012

The 17th Heineken Cup Final at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday is a strictly Irish affair as defending champions Leinster take on Ulster for the Europe’s most coveted Rugby club trophy.
Irish rugby is guaranteed the trophy for the fifth time in seven seasons.
1999 champions Ulster, the first Irish side to win the tournament, have ended a 13-year wait and are through to their second final appearance, on the other hand Leinster are bidding to be crowned European champions for an unprecedented third time in four seasons.
It is the first all-Irish final in the history of the tournament.

Welfare cuts hitting the working poor

18 05 2012

Ballycastle SDLP Councillor Dónal Cunningham has said he is concerned by the number of local working families who have been reporting receiving notification of overpayments of Tax Credit with many being asked to repay money from last year.

Cllr Cunningham said: “A number of local families have received notifications saying that their Family Tax Credit is either being cut altogether, or have been informed that they have been overpaid and are now being asked to repay this money.

“This is deeply distressing – these people are the working poor – many of them working as hard as they can just to make ends meet; none of them are in any position to repay money received in good faith.

“These letters mark the start of the ruthless welfare reform cuts brought in by the British Government and being implemented by the Assembly.”

Support Moyle’s Olympic Torch events – it’s our moment to shine

17 05 2012

On Sunday 3rd June the Olympic Flame is coming to Moyle, this is our moment to shine and to support those members of the community, the Torchbearers, who have been chosen to run with the torch. See attached link for full list of events throughout Moyle.


Health Service must meet the needs of the Community

14 05 2012

Ballycastle SDLP Councillor Dónal Cunningham has stressed the need for those involved in the implementation of the recently published Review of Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland (Transforming Your Care, December 2011) to shape a health service that meets the needs of the community.
Representatives form the Northern Health and Social Care Trust and the Local Commissioning Group are due to meet with Moyle District Council on Monday 21st May.
The Compton Report(Transforming Your Care, December 2011) sets out the future for health and social care services as it faces a number of significant challenges over the next four years and beyond. It examines the quality and accessibility of health services, how needs are currently being met, and brings forward recommendations for the future shape of services along with a supporting implementation plan. Moyle Council will fight hard to protect and improve all of our services, in particular the Causeway Hospital A&E.
Councillor Cunningham is anxious to hear the views and concerns of the community, so that all parts of the health and social care system meet the needs of the community and respond to the considerable challenges ahead.