Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

Moving from politics of the past into a brighter future

The Green Party can bring a breath of fresh air to politics here, says Steven Agnew

In spite of the best efforts of some to make this an election about who will be First Minister, this is an election about the issues: health, education, the economy and, in particular, job-creation.

The Green Party recognises in these difficult financial times what we need is economy for people and planet.

The Green Party will go into the Assembly with three key priorities: full implementation of the Green New Deal, protecting public - sector jobs and opposing plans to raise fees for university education.

The Green New Deal insulation scheme is the perfect example of a policy which is good for the economy, good for people and good for the environment.

Rising oil and gas prices are affecting everyone in Northern Ireland and are having a significant impact on household bills. Northern Ireland is particularly vulnerable as the vast majority of the energy we use is imported.

So every time we pay electricity, oil or a gas bill, that money goes out of our economy. It amounts to £2 billion-per-year literally going up in smoke.

By insulating 500,000 homes across Northern Ireland, we can reduce the amount of energy it takes to heat our homes; therefore saving people money on their heating bills.

Up to 15,000 jobs would be created either directly for those fitting the insulation, or indirectly through increased spending in the local economy.

There would also be health benefits as reducing emissions means tackling the causes of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

The Green Party knows that you cannot grow the economy by putting people out of work.

We would defend public-sector jobs and services, which are vital to ensure fairness in our society.

We oppose plans to cut corporation tax for banks and multinational supermarkets which would see £300m slashed from public services.

We need to invest in Northern Ireland and in the small, local businesses which are the backbone of our economy. We would reduce the small profits rates for local businesses and grow our economy from the ground up to ensure that it is resilient in times of global economic uncertainty.

The Green Party believes that education should be about providing equal opportunities for all and that university fees are a barrier to this.

I have a £16,000 debt from my university days and I will not condemn the next generation of students to the burden of average debts of around £40,000 - a situation that students of English universities will soon be faced with.

We must show that devolution works by doing things differently to ensure our best and brightest stay in Northern Ireland.

The Green Party is committed to freezing fees at the current level and believes we should be working towards alternative ways to fund university education so that we can scrap fees altogether.

When elected leader of the Green Party, I pledged that my first priority was to end the myth that we are a single-issue party.

Through our Green New Deal programme for job-creation, our defence of the public sector and our commitment to equal access to quality third-level education, we are showing that we are a party that is committed to policies that are good for the economy, good for people and also good for the environment.

The Green Party heads into this election in better shape than ever. Our European election result showed our vote had trebled in the space of five years.

In these elections we are looking to translate that growth of support into increased representation in the Assembly and local councils.

We have candidates that can bring a breath of fresh air to Northern Ireland politics and the experience and expertise of Green parties across the globe to draw upon.

While others dwell in the past, it is the Green Party that has the vision for a brighter future.

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