On the first day of the current Assembly Jim Allister was dismissed as 'a fringe player'. Two and a half years, 2,469 questions and one private members Bill later there are few who would describe the TUV leader in such terms.
Events on Tuesday morning again illustrated the impact which Jim Allister is making in the Assembly when the Environment Minister Mark Durkan didn’t move the further consideration stage of the Carrier Bags Bill because of “the policy implications of the amendments tabled on Thursday February 6”.
That was a reference to Jim Allister’s amendments which would, if passed, remove paper bags from the ambit of the Bill.
The “Bag Tax” was sold to the public as a means of cutting down on the number of plastic bags and the pollution which they cause. However, inexplicably the tax also covers paper bags.
Not only has this left shoppers paying an unjust charge for paper bags but it has resulted in job losses within Northern Ireland packaging companies. Jobs have been lost in a supply company in North Antrim while another, in Bangor, has collapsed as a direct result of the bag tax.
Paper, as every child knows, is biodegradable. Unlike plastic bags, therefore, they cause no long term damage to the environment. By exempting paper bags Stormont could considerably limit the damage to the bag industry and also allow hard pressed shoppers to carry their goods in tax free biodegradable paper bags.
The fact that Minister pulled the Bill shows that he is uncertain about obtaining enough support to defeat Jim’s amendments.
I would therefore encourage people to lobby their MLAs by Facebook, Twitter, email and telephone to ensure that this common sense proposal is passed by the Assembly.