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Enter the Aber Dragon!



Y Draig Goch: breathing fire (Photo: RtP)

Y Draig Goch: breathing fire (Photo: RtP)

A DRAGON from Aberystwyth was in the forefront of the occupation of an opencast coalmine near Merthyr Tydfil last week.

Pictures of ‘y ddraig goch’ dominated days of intensive global media coverage of the action at the 11 million tonne Ffos-y-Frân mine.

The story first broke in the UK when The Herald previewed the occupation.

Inside the dragon were Mike Fincken from Aberystwyth and Ian O’Reilly from Lampeter.

On the eve of Assembly elections, they were taking part in the occupation to demand an end to coal because of the impact that burning fossil fuels has on climate change.

The occupation and a four-day camp was organised by Reclaim the Power (RtP). This network joined forces with local residents the United Valleys Action Group (UVAG) who have been opposing the mine because of its visual impact, dust and noise pollution since 2004.

Led by the dragon, more than threehundred people dressed in red boiler suits drew a line across the mine to symbolise that carbon emissions are exceeding viable limits for future life on Earth. Alternately singing, dancing and playing football, protesters nonviolently closed the mine for twelve hours. South Wales police made no arrests.

The RtP camp was an impressive feat of organisation. For four-days on a bitterly cold hill-top three-hundred people made use of marquees and geodesic domes for meetings and workshops, enjoyed food prepared by chef from Cardiff, had all the energy they needed generated by a small wind turbine and an array of photovoltaic panels, and made use of commodious and virtually odourless compost toilets.

Mike Fincken was most impressed with the food: “The only thing at this event that was better than the direct action we took was the food we ate, fresh, colourful, delicious and piping hot vegan cuisine.”

Why they did it

Ian O’Reilly told The Herald why he had been a part of the occupation: “Because I had heard of the struggles that the Ffos-y-Frân residents were facing before, but it wasn’t until I started looking at the pictures and reading about it that I realized just how big the destruction was, and how badly the people around there had been treated.

“I went to the Reclaim the Power Camp because I love the countryside, and we have to get out there and protect it – whether it’s outside the door or a couple of hours away. Otherwise big companies are going to keep on destroying it, leaving us with nothing.”

Mike Fincken told us why he was there: “To shut down the largest opencast coal mine in the UK. This was a local protest with an international audience. It was also the first action of Groundswell a series of international actions planned to increase the call for climate justice in 2016.

“Last year I was inspired by ‘Ende Gelände’ where fifteen hundred people occupied an open-cast mine in Germany. Ende Gelände had in turn been inspired by previous actions at Ffos-y-Frân.”

Best moment?

Mike Fincken recalls that his: “Best moment came when I was asked to be the head of the dragon. I was a little anxious that I would be strong enough to carry it off all day but I didn’t hesitate to accept the challenge.

“I did not expect that I would end up leading 300 people in serpentine fashion down into the deep centre of the mine!” For Ian O’Reilly: ‘All of my best moments were about people and that sense of community.

“Down in the centre of the mine, dancing with the dragon and singing with drummers and watching people play a game of football made me appreciate what we had managed to do: In halting a dangerous activity, we had also brought people together.”

Worst moment?

Ian and Mike were in agreement about their worst moment during the camp. Ian told The Herald that: “Waking up to find your tent covered with frost in May wasn’t pleasant, but I would have to say that my worst moment was seeing all the rubbish tipped out on the sides of the roads up near the common and Rhaslas Reservoir on the way to the camp.

“It was a really disheartening moment and sort of captured everything that we were there to try and turnaround.”

Mike added: “I was shocked by the mass of fly-tipped garbage at the side of the road outside of Merthyr Tydfil. Over the long weekend people from the camp made an effort to collect it.

“Office chairs, fenders, pipes, decaying bags filled with trash and a lot of rusty wire. We called the council to take it away but their truck wasn’t big enough and it had to do two runs.”

It is striking that, knowing about the climate change associated with coal and confronted by a filthy great hole in the ground covering 900 acres, Ian and Mike were most shocked by fly-tipping.

To obtain initial planning permission Ffos-y-Frân actually masqueraded as a land reclamation scheme. Merthyr common has long been a notorious site for fly-tipping. Despite a commitment from the developers of Ffos-y-Frân to clean it up, the practice continues unabated.

This in an area of potentially outstanding natural beauty on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, a renowned tourist destination. UVAG and RtP will revisit the common in June to organise a major clean-up.

What was achieved?

Mike told the Herald: “Three-hundred people took a dragon into UK’s largest opencast coal mine and shut it down. We achieved international coverage in the first wave of the Groundswell movement for 2016.

“For three days we were the top story in Wales. We brought protest home and showed that it is simple, fun and most importantly that it is carried out by ordinary people. Last year was the hottest on record.

“Climate change is talked about on an academic level, but in direct action there is the opportunity for ordinary people like myself to do something about it.”

Ian added: “I’d like to think that somehow we managed to reach the workers we saw and met. That maybe they appreciated that we were doing this for them, their families and their jobs.”

The politics of coal

With Aberthaw power station, the main market for coal from Ffos-y-Frân on its last legs, the end of opencast mining in Wales may not be so far down the line.

Plaid Cymru is committed to no new opencast, while the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party both made election pledges to produce all the nation’s electricity from renewable sources.

Labour’s commitment is less quantifiable, with a vague manifesto pledge to develop more renewable energy projects. While the Conservatives are more sceptical on climate change, UKIP seeks to cut Welsh government spending on climate change altogether.

Only the Green Party found time to actively support the Reclaim the Power Camp as part of a busy election campaign. For all their efforts, they were rewarded by gaining no seats in the Assembly.

Party leader Natalie Bennet visited the camp together with Wales leader Alice Hooker-Stroud, who said: “Fossil fuels must stay in the ground if we’re to act responsibly on climate change. We don’t need or want more opencast in Wales.

“There is huge potential for renewables in Wales, creating a clean energy economy fit for the future. Not only is the industry potentially worth billions to the Welsh economy, which could be invested by communities and local authorities in public services, but it would provide decent, sustainable jobs across Wales.”

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Two years of Active Travel improvements worth £336,750 completed in Cardigan



Councillor John Adams Lewis: On the newly widened footway

WORK has recently been completed by Ceredigion County Council to widen the footway on Pont y Cleifion Road, which sees the culmination of a two year package of grant-funded Active Travel improvements in Cardigan.

Deputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Ray Quant MBE, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Technical Services said, “I’m delighted that grant funding of £294,575 has been received from the Welsh Government’s Local Transport Fund over the two year programme. Coupled with financial contributions also made by Ceredigion County Council and Cardigan Town Council, the total value of this package scheme amounted to £336,750 to benefit the well-being of residents of Cardigan town. Further potential improvements have been identified by Highways Officers and these will be developed next year with a view to future implementation and construction.”

During the first year, the improvements were concentrated in the vicinity of Cardigan Primary School, which saw the introduction of a new 20 mph zone with traffic calming, wider footways, upgraded crossings and a new path to the swimming pool. A new cycle shelter and two new scooter shelters were installed at the primary school to help encourage more Active Travel journeys and less car trips. This was aided further by providing two brand new scooters and helmets which the school have used for pupils to earn ‘Scooterer of the week’.

The second year saw a 20 mph zone and traffic calming implemented outside Cardigan Secondary School, again with wider footways and new raised table crossings to aid pedestrians and mobility users. A new cycle shelter was installed to encourage pupils and staff to cycle to the school. The scheme included completion of the ‘missing’ footway link to the other side of the road on Aberystwyth Road with new resurfacing which has improved pedestrian connectivity and user comfort.

A new pedestrian refuge was also installed in the carriageway to aid crossing on Aberystwyth Road. The footway on Pont y Cleifion road was previously narrow and unsuitable for pushchair or mobility users due to the lack of dropped kerb provision. However the recent construction works have brought this section of footway up to modern design standards and provides a better quality Active Travel link between the town centre and the Parc Teifi Business Park.

Councillor John Adams-Lewis, Local Member for Mwldan ward and Chair of governors for Cardigan Primary School added, “I’m pleased that Cardigan Town Council has supported these improvements financially which has resulted in a number of footway enhancements in the town, especially at both our school locations which have benefited from road safety improvements and reduced speed limits. I would also like to thank Ceredigion County Council for their financial contributions and to Highways Officers for securing this grant funding and for overseeing these high quality works.”

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Police warn online trolls over ‘malicious’ Kiara comments



DYFED-POWYS POLICE have warned online trolls that they may take action against malicious comments relating to Kiara Moore, the 2-year-old child who sadly died in the River Teifi on Monday (Mar 19).

Her mother, Kim Rowlands, and father, Jet Moore, both posted on social media site Facebook following their daughter’s death.

Jet, responding to questions about the incident, said that it was a tragic accident.

Jet Moore: Explained what happened in Cardigan

He posted: “Just to let every one who keeps asking how know, it was the lemons stacked up too far!

“They got in the car to go home. Sat on bank card which snapped and needed money to get home etc.

“Went back to the office to get money from the desk and came back to no car. Looked in the river, no signs. So we thought she and the car had been taken.

“The police found the car a while later and went way beyond the call of duty jumping in and pulling her out.

“They tried to revive her for hours but unfortunately could not.

“Everyone had done their best.

“Thank you all so much for the support it means the world!”

Kim Rowlands: With her daughter, Kiara

His partner, Kim, added in a separate post: “Sadly yesterday my beautiful baby girl passed away!

“Due to my own stupidity, I will have to live with the guilt for the rest of my life!

“Mummy loves you baby girl and I’m so sorry.”

Many users of the social network commented on the posts which caused offence to many readers.

Now Dyfed-Powys Police has warned people to ‘think very carefully’ before commenting, and not to speculate about the events of Monday afternoon.

A spokesperson said: “Enquiries are continuing to fully understand the circumstances surrounding this tragic incident.

“Examination of the vehicle will form part of these enquiries.

“We can also confirm that the vehicle had not been stolen.

“We are aware of potentially malicious comments relating to the incident on social media. These are being reviewed and action may be taken where appropriate.”

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Two cardigan women warned of jail time



TWO Cardigan women have been warned they could go to jail.

Sarah Prytherch-Jones and Sarah Murnane appeared before Miss Recorder Elwen Evans at Swansea Crown Court for a plea and trial preparation hearing.

Prytherch-Jones, aged 32, of North Road, and Murnane, 35, of Greenfield Row, admitted breaking into a property on St Mary Street, Cardigan, on September 8, 2016, with the intention of causing criminal damage.

The plea was accepted by Nicola Powell, prosecuting, and a charge of burglary with the intention of causing grievous bodily harm was withdrawn.

They will be sentenced on April 3.

Miss Recorder Evans warned them that the offence was a serious one and that a jail sentence would be at the forefront of the sentencing judge’s mind.

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