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Election hopefuls battle it out

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CONSERVATIVE candidate Simon Hart was the only representative of the country’s last coalition government to attend an all-

Delyth Evans talking to PPF member Andy Martin

Delyth Evans talking to PPF member Andy Martin

Pembrokeshire day of hustings on Friday (Apr 17).

The morning session saw Stephen Crabb and Nick Tregoning pleaded other commitments, while in the South Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen West hustings, Liberal Democrat ‘challenger’ Selwyn Runnett joined Plaid Cymru’s Elwyn Williams and John Atkinson of UKIP on the absentee list.

However, as the seat has been something of a two-horse race between red and blue since 1997, it could be argued that the presence of Mr Hart, along with Labour candidate Delyth Evans, allowed people to see the contrast between different probable futures for the constituency. The Green Party’s Gary Tapley, attending the second hustings of his political career, was also in attendance.

The event, held in the Albany Hall, Haverfordwest, was organised by Pembrokeshire People First, a charity set up to enable and empower people with learning disabilities. PPF coordinator Karen Chandler started the ball rolling with a brief summary of what the group have achieved, before introducing the candidates.

Many of the questions asked referred directly to changes in the country’s benefit system over the last five years. In response to a question which pointed out that under changes to the Disability Living Allowance 1 in 5 people may not be able to live independently any more, Mr Hart stated that the policy was not designed to make people miss out, and blamed delays in processing, as well as less-than-perfect communication. “Nobody in this room who needs support should fall foul of the system,” he added.

Ms Evans said that when dealing with vulnerable people it was ‘more important to get things right,’ and added that one of the priorities for a Labour government would be ‘clearing the backlog’ of claims waiting to be processed ‘so people know where they stand.’ She also criticised the negative language used to describe recipients of benefits. Mr Tapley disagreed with the use of private companies ‘with targets to meet’ for assessments.

Mr Hart was also the only candidate across two constituencies who spoke out in favour of the ‘bedroom tax’ on the day, saying that he had witnessed extreme levels of overcrowding in council accommodation due to a shortage of available properties.  His assertion that discretionary payments could be made by the local council to make up the shortfall was challenged by Ms Chandler, who pointed out that in Pembrokeshire those payments were only issued for a maximum of 6 months.

Ms Evans said that the Labour party promised to scrap the tax. “It penalises people who can’t help their situation and hasn’t solved the problem,” she said. Mr Tapley concurred, saying that it was ‘awful to mess with things without a solution in place’.

The Herald spoke to Sophie Hinksman, co-chair of the Learning Disability Advisory Group after the hustings: “I can understand Simon Hart’s point about overcrowding,” she said, “but the bedroom tax should be scrapped. It’s a bad idea, and it’s not fair to everyone.”

Another issue that PPF members felt strongly about was the Human Rights Act.  In response to a question from Chairman Jeremy DeWilton regarding their promises to protect the act, Mr Hart claimed that it had ‘run its natural course’, and should be replaced by a Bill of Rights.  “The Human Rights Act has been used by lawyers to protect the undeserving,” he added.

Ms Evans pointed out that the last Labour government had signed the UN Charter of Rights, and that her party had no plans to alter the act.  “It is more important to make sure that it is put into practice – to make sure organisations like the County Council understand you have human rights,” she added.

Mr Tapley, whose face bore the expression of a schoolboy who has turned up at his science lesson with meticulously completed art homework, admitted that he was unsure of the party stance on the issue, but said that personally he was in favour of keeping the act. “People focus too much on what a few bad people do, rather than what it is for,” he said, and looked relieved when he was told that maintaining the Human Rights Act was in the Green Party manifesto.

In response to a question from vice chairman Ed Lewis asking ‘how can we trust you to do the things you say you will do?’ Mr Tapley was more forthright. “I keep my word – that’s who I am.  Doing this won’t change me, if I’m voted in my duty is to you,” he declared.

Describing trust as ‘very important,’ Ms Evans said that the current lack of trust in politicians saddened her.  “Most politicians are not liars,” she commented, before saying: “I try not to say things I don’t think I can do.”

Mr Hart agreed with the low public opinion regarding politicians. “They seem to be ranked with estate agents and journalists,” he joked. This remark, hopefully not a slur on Lib Dem candidate Mr Runnett, led me to wonder where the estate agent connection came in.  Surely not the ubiquitous identical signs scattered across the south county?

Further questions were addressed to Ms Evans and Mr Tapley, after Mr Hart was forced to leave early.

The Herald spoke to the chair of PPF afterwards. Mr DeWilton said that he was impressed by the way candidates answered the group’s question: “Hopefully they’ll stick to what they said they want to do,” he said.

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Crabb backs veterans of Irish Troubles

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VETERANS of the Northern Irish Troubles have been backed by Preseli MP Stephen Crabb during votes in the House of Commons.

In the absence of a functioning administration in Northern Ireland, Members of Parliament have been voting in an effort to keep Northern Ireland running.

Stephen Crabb co-sponsored an amendment put forward by Johnny Mercer MP which passed. The Secretary of State must now report on the options available to allow veterans of the Troubles to assist in a truth recovery process, for the benefit of bereaved families, without fear of prosecution.

Commenting following the vote, Stephen Crabb MP said: “This is a positive step towards ensuring the hounding of veterans is stopped. The proud, local veteran community, along with myself, have been deeply troubled by the ongoing pursuit of current and former British Soldiers for actions carried out while under orders on active service.

“I have made the point previously to Ministers that we risk a serious breach of trust with our Armed Forces by opening the door to such prosecutions. The pressures placed on a solder in conflict situations are enormous and it cannot be right that actions carried out in these circumstances are re-opened decades later by people with no understanding of what happened on the ground.“

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Identical ‘call-out’ within three days for Fishguard RNLI lifeboat

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FISHGUARD RNLI inshore lifeboat launched on Thursday evening 18 July to the very same inflatable dinghy they rescued on Monday July 15

The inshore lifeboat and three volunteer crew launched at 8.45pm after the inflatable was reported drifting out to sea from Fishguard harbour. The flimsy inflatable and the young men onboard were taken under tow back to the area of Goodwick beach and they were again spoken to regarding the dangers of inflatable craft. On this occasion there was an off-shore wind and an ebbing tide which potentially presented much more dangerous conditions for the persons onboard.

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Rosslare ready to go it alone

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THE UK Government stands ready to revoke legislation governing the relationship between the ports of Fishguard and Rosslare.

The abolition of the current arrangements is a step closer according to Irish newspaper reports of a recent meeting between Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Fianna Fáil’s transport spokesperson Robert Troy and Wexford TD James Browne.

According to the reports, Mr Grayling told the Irish politicians that the UK has ‘no strategic or economic’ interest in keeping the ports’ governance structure.

The Irish Government, meanwhile, regards Rosslare as a major part of its Brexit plans and has acquired further land to provide additional facilities there.

The ports are governed by a UK Act of Parliament from 1888, which created the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbour Company.

The Act continued to govern the relationship between the Ports, even after most of Ireland secured its independence from the – then – British empire.

However, the old legislation has – in the view of Irish TD James Browne – hindered the Irish Government’s ability to expand activities at Rosslare to the benefit of the local and Irish economies.

Stena Line: Looking at the long term development of both ports

Fishguard and Rosslare ports are part of the one company, namely the Fishguard and Rosslare Railway and Harbours Company set up by an Act of Parliament.

Mr Browne explained to The Herald: “In effect, ownership of the port lies with UK government. But in turn the ports are effectively run as private companies: Irish Rail control and operate the Rosslare end and Stena control and operate the Fishguard side and there is an agreement in place as to the division of profits of the company.

“In Ireland, this complex and archaic ownership model has regularly been cited as an inhibiting factor in the development of the port. In short, no one will invest in a port whose ownership is unclear.”
The opportunity is not, however, all on one side, says the Wexford TD: “The decoupling of the two ports, and the transfer of Rosslare to Irish state ownership would free up both ports from this complex ownership model and allow investment in the ports.”

Mr Browne also highlighted the potential for growth in economic activity in West Wales’ closest trading neighbour: “Dublin Port is so busy that it is turning away business. Rosslare Port is in an ideal geographical location to attract shipping business and to take the pressure off of Dublin. Port. It, in turn, would act as an economic driver for the entire South East of Ireland.”

Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb told us: Stephen: “The importance of the Fishguard – Rosslare ferry connection is unquestionable with 80% of all goods from Ireland passing through Welsh ports.
“However, the historic legal framework for the ports is outdated and does not give either side the freedom they need to develop and innovate. I can well understand why change is being sought at this time.

“I have met with the management on both sides of the Irish Sea to discuss Brexit planning and other aspects of the industry and will continue to do so.”

Ian Hampton, Chief People and Communications Officer, Stena Line said: “Stena Line hopes that by removing the historical legislation that governs the status of The Fishguard Rosslare Railways and Harbour Company it will enable Stena Line and the Irish Government to work closer together creating greater opportunity, such as the options for the long term development of both the respective ports.”

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