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.”
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.”
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.”
Plaid’s Dafydd Llywelyn re-elected as Police and Crime Commissioner
THE NEW Police and Crime Commissioner for the Dyfed Powys Area has been announced.
Incumbent, Dafydd Llywelyn, of Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales, has been re-elected for a second term.
The election was held Thursday, 06 May 2021, at the same time as the Senedd Cymru elections.
In order to follow all coronavirus regulations, the count for this election was held on Sunday, 09 May 2021.
The announcement was made in Ceredigion, at the Ysgol Bro Teifi, Llandysul.
Dafydd Llywelyn, was first elected as one of the two new Plaid Cymru PCCs during 2016’s election and is the PCC for Dyfed-Powys Police.
The force covers over half the land mass of Wales and during the PCC elections had the highest turnout of all PCC elections at 49%.
Mr Llywelyn is a former Principal Intelligence Analyst and worked within Police Intelligence for many years before, in 2014, moving to Aberystwyth University to lecture on Criminology. His career has provided him with considerable insight into core policing issues as well as an understanding of what the public want from the service. He has pledged to reinvest in CCTV and prevention activities and has refused to appoint a deputy.
Standing against him were three other candidates – Jon Burns (Conservative); Philippa Thompson (Labour) and Glyn Preston (Welsh Liberal Democrats).
The results for Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner’s elections were as follows:
Jon Burns (Conservatives); 69,112
Dafydd Llywelyn (Plaid Cymru); 68208
Philippa Thompson (Labour): 48033
Glyn Preston (Welsh Liberal Democrats) 17649
Jon Burns: 8209
Dafydd Llywelyn: 26280
This was the third time police and crime commissioner elections have been held. The election was originally due to take place in May 2020 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new PCC term begins on Thursday, May 13, 2021.
Under the terms of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, PCCs must:
- secure an efficient and effective police for their area;
- appoint the Chief Constable, hold them to account for running the force, and if necessary dismiss them;
- set the police and crime objectives for their area through a police and crime plan;
- set the force budget and determine the precept;
- contribute to the national and international policing capabilities set out by the Home Secretary; and
- bring together community safety and criminal justice partners, to make sure local priorities are joined up.
Tregaron man charged with rape following large scale search for suspect
POLICE in Ceredigion have confirmed that man has been charged following the large police presence and search in the Lampeter area on Thursday, May 6.
A police operation was launched after an allegation of a serious sexual assault.
Officers have now confirmed that 45-year-old Saul Henvey, of Tregaron, has been charged with rape.
He is due to appear at Aberystwyth Magistrates Court on Monday, May 10.
Detectives dealing with the case that they would continue to provide specialist support to the victim.
A spokesperson said: “We would once again like to thank the public for their assistance in this investigation.”
Mark Drakeford says: ‘Thank you Wales for going red’
LABOUR is staying in power in Wales after matching its best-ever Senedd election result. It won exactly half of the 60 seats in the Welsh Parliament with all results now declared
Labour has 30 seats, with the Conservatives on 16, Plaid Cymru on 13 and the Liberal Democrats one.
Mark Drakeford thanked Wales for “going red” and has vowed to be “radical” and “ambitious” in government, as Labour looks to solidify its leadership in Wales.
Labour’s Vaughan Gething, health minister in the Welsh government, told the media that the party didn’t “have to look at a formal coalition” because they had done so well.
“We do, however, have to talk to other groups within the Senedd,” he said.
Mr Gething said Labour had a “strong mandate to govern” with 30 of the Senedd’s 60 seats.
The Wales Green Party failed to win a seat in the Senedd elections but they say they recorded their highest-ever result in Wales. Leader Anthony Slaughter said the “results demonstrate the appetite for change” across Wales.
Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, said: “We seem to be getting votes from all of the parties and support on that regional list as people increase their knowledge of the voting system.”
Adam Price, who held Carmarthen East and Dinefwr with a reduced majority, said he would not stand down as Plaid Cymru leader.
Despite no gains, Mr Price said the party had increased its share of the vote and its stance on independence had been a “net positive”.
“I’m not walking away from anything, because this is the moment when Wales needs leadership,” he said.
“This is a historic challenge, because of the way that the politics is moving in this island, but it’s also a historic opportunity for us.
“We can move our nation forward and I’m looking forward to playing my part, it’s not something that anyone can do on their own.
“I have a role to play, we all have a role to play and that’s what’s exciting about politics at the moment. Wales is on the move Wales is on the march. I’m going to be part of that.”
Later, on social media, Adam Price said: ” I extend my congratulations to Mark Drakeford on securing a mandate to lead the next government. Although disappointed not to be returning more Members to the Senedd, I am proud that we ran a positive campaign based on a transformational programme.
“Our Senedd group will bring renewed energy and fresh ideas and I look forward to working with all my colleagues as we continue to build the case for independence. We will be a constructive but forensic opposition as we enter a crucial period of pandemic recovery.
“However, the sixth Senedd will be poorer without one of Wales’s most remarkable politicians. No one has given more to the party or to her community than Leanne Wood – an inspiring role model for so many.
“Leanne’s commitment to the Rhondda is unparalleled and I know she will continue to make an important contribution to the future of our nation and the pursuit of social justice which always has and always will drive her politics.
“Westminster’s attack on devolution is only just beginning and Wales needs a plan – that plan must focus on taking our own future into our own hands so we can build a nation that is fair and free.
TORYS CLAIM BEST RESULT EVER
The Welsh Conservatives say that they have secured the party’s best ever result in a Senedd election, winning 16 seats in the Welsh Parliament.
In a statement to the press the party said: “Today’s final election results have seen the Welsh Conservatives secure two regional list seats in both South Wales Central and South Wales East.
“Welsh Conservatives polled 289,802 votes (share up 5.0) across 40 constituencies – 26.1% of the vote – winning eight seats including gains in both the Vale of Clwyd and Brecon and Radnorshire.
“On the five regional lists, Welsh Conservatives secured 278,560 votes (share up 6.3), winning eight seats. The result will see the Senedd return its first ever female from a BAME background, with Welsh Conservatives’ Natasha Asghar making history with election in South Wales East.
Commenting, Welsh Conservative Senedd leader, Andrew RT Davies said: “Firstly, I’d like to say a huge thank you to our outstanding set of Welsh Conservative candidates, activists and staff who’ve worked incredibly hard throughout this campaign and secured the party’s best ever Senedd result.
“The team has gone above and beyond and deserve great credit for the positive campaign we’ve run right across Wales, and I am thrilled to see Natasha Asghar make history in South Wales East by becoming the first female from a BAME background to be elected to the Senedd.
“As a party we are also delighted to have secured constituency seats in the Vale of Clwyd and Brecon and Radnorshire, and increased seats on the regional lists, resulting in our highest ever representation in the Senedd with 16 members.
“It’s been an unconventional campaign and it’s clear incumbency and continuity has played a significant part. To that end, I would like to offer my sincere congratulations to Mark Drakeford and Welsh Labour on a successful campaign.
“The election has been fought in good spirit by political parties in Wales and I would like to pay a final word of thanks to the many officials across the country who’ve allowed this election to take place in a safe and effective manner.”
IMPACT OF PANDEMIC
Ian Price, director of CBI Wales, congratulated Labour. He said: “This is a critical time for the Welsh economy and the new parliament must have a laser-like focus on rebuilding from the devastating impact of the pandemic,” he said.
“That means all parties pulling together and working with business to protect jobs, rebuild livelihoods and create a fair and sustainable recovery that addresses the longstanding structural challenges our economy faces.”
Royal Town Planning Institute, largest professional body for town planners in the UK and Europe, commented on the election result saying: “The Welsh Labour Manifesto meets many of the issues raised by the RTPI, including tackling climate action, investing in public transport and active travel, and the delivery of quality affordable homes, including a focus on strengthening Welsh language communities.
“The manifesto commits to strengthening the autonomy and effectiveness of local government to make them more successful in delivering services. We have highlighted the need to invest in planning services to enable the delivery of Welsh Labour’s priorities.”
Speaking to the BBC, political commentator Prof Roger Awan-Scully said: “I think it’s been an astonishingly resilient performance by the Welsh Labour Party, amidst disasters for Labour elsewhere in the UK.
“The Conservatives are also performing strongly, but not quite bringing it home in terms of the number of constituency victories that they might have expected.
“For Plaid Cymru I think this has to be said to be a deeply disappointing election.”
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