The Politics Society welcomed Rachel Woods, a Green Party Councillor for Ards & North Down, on 23/11/2018. One of the prevalent topics of discussion was the pressing issue of Brexit. Rachel outlined the stance of the Green Party on the issue, which was to remain in the EU and back a second referendum; but also believed a better deal could be reached by the government with the EU than what has been proposed, as well as the need for it to reflect the people of NI and avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
We also discussed the issue of voting, with Rachel stating her belief for the vote for those aged 16 and a reform of the voting system, as she believes the “first past the post” system entrenches the two party system both in NI and the rest of the UK, as well as the need for greater involvement in politics from women and students through the introduction of the Green Party’s Young Peoples’ Manifesto.
Local issues concerning Ards & North Down were also discussed, with Rachel describing her role in the council, being the chair of the Community and Wellbeing Committee as well as the chair of the Policing and Community Safety Partnership and vice-chair of the Regeneration & Development Committee. She also spoke about the work of and need for community resuscitation groups and the funding required for councils to allow these groups to work effectively; the Food Poverty Action Group in North Down which has some of the highest food poverty rates in NI, and the need to give a voice to those in the community on local issues.
Another topic discussed was Rachel’s membership of and the policies of the Green Party and her views on the party policies. She told us that the Ards & North Down Council was the first local council in the UK to ban the use of single use plastics on its premises due to her influence, along with her decision to join the Green Party over the Alliance Party after hearing John Barry giving a lecture on peak oil whilst at QUB. She described the workings of the Green Party both in the UK and the wider European network and the constant communication and common policy between the parties.
Finally we discussed the issue of the assembly at Stormont, with Rachel agreeing that MLAs should have their pay reduced until the assembly begin to function and she criticised the polarisation politics in NI between Sinn Fein and the DUP. Rachel also told us of her support for a Citizen’s Assembly with an international moderator from outside the UK and ROI, and spoke of the regression of NI politics with regards to the Good Friday Agreement with the lack of assembly and community engagement, coupled with the active paramilitaries, particularly in Ards & North Down. However, she believed that the next generation of politics in NI would help to resolve the existing divisions in NI and that reform of the political system in NI was needed including the removal of the Petition of concern from the St Andrews Agreement to allow this to happen effectively.
Nat Bailie (Year 13)