Holyhead and Anglesey Mail Column 21/11/2018

Last week was another extraordinary week in politics. As I watch the Westminster Brexit debacle unfold, my concern is for what it means to us here in Wales, and especially here on Anglesey – to our exporters, our farmers, our port, our University…. and our children.

It’s nearly a year-and-a-half since Wales and Ynys Môn voted to Leave the EU. In Anglesey’s case the result was almost exactly 50/50. Had it been a Remain vote from the same small margin, there’s no way that half the population could have been ignored. Yes, we’d have stayed in the EU, but genuine worries would have had to be addressed. No doubt the UK Government would have had to tighten its own rules on freedom of movement (not the EU’s rules, incidentally – they already allow great flexibility for members to control abuse of free inter-state movement), and there’d be an effort, perhaps, to increase general transparency about EU affairs.

As it stands, not only are the 50% who voted Remain being ignored, the Government is delivering something vastly different to what Leave voters were promised. It’s an almighty mess, and you’ll know that my opinion is that with clear evidence now before us, the people should be allowed a vote on whether they NOW think leaving as is being suggested is actually something they support.

I was with pupils at Ysgol Uwchradd Caergybi last week. They were crystal clear in their views. They think leaving, either on the terms that have been ‘negotiated’, or as a hard ‘no deal’ exit, would be bonkers. And you know what? It’s they who are important. They are the future, and that future should not be a plaything for ideologues of the left or the right, or those harking for days of British Empire.

So, it’s been another Brexit-dominated few weeks, but there’s been plenty more to keep me busy. I’ve taken part in Budget scrutiny, and met the Finance Secretary to lobby for more funding for Local Government. I’ve met the FSB to talk about how we can do more to help small businesses, and travelled to the north east of England to learn about best practice in promoting the High Street. I’ve discussed marketing Wales and Welsh produce with farmers’ leaders and taken part in discussions on the future of Holyhead port. To represent Ynys Môn in such discussions is a great honour.

Holyhead and Anglesey Mail Column – 7/11/2018

So… austerity is over? So the UK Government proclaimed as it published its Budget last week. Well, let me tell the Conservative Chancellor that it doesn’t look or feel over from where I’m standing. Our local council here on Anglesey is still facing unprecedented pressures. The budgets of most of its departments have been savagely cut over the past decade, with education and social services being spared as much as possible. Well, without drastic action there’ll be no choice but to cut further. Earlier this year, Nottinghamshire Council effectively declared it was bankrupt, and I fear local authorities here in Wales will be in similar situations without a sharp injection of resources.

The Welsh Labour Government as chosen not to take the pressure off them with its funding decisions, too, and in my new role as Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Finance Secretary, I’ll be meeting the Cabinet Secretary for Finance this week and asking, in light of that UK budget, for help to be given to our councils to breathe easier as they head into winter and face up to the new financial year.

There was no easing into November for any of us as strong early winter winds blew across the island over the weekend. Thankfully, the storm wasn’t too fierce this time, and the accompanying rain didn’t cause too many problems. But damage caused by storms over the past year have put us on notice of what climate change has in store for us. This week’s public meeting I’m chairing in Llangefni is a chance to quiz the Council, Natural Resources Wales and Dwr Cymru about steps that have been taken since the recent flooding in the town (I’ve chaired a similar event in Dwyran, too). People need reassurance, and I’m grateful to the council for taking concrete steps (literally) to protect Llangefni with the building of a new wall north of Pont y Plas.

In Holyhead, it was the winds of storm Emma that raged earlier this year. The town’s marina was wiped out, and as we approach the second meeting of the reconvened Port Users Group this week (which I go-chair with the island’s MP), I’m calling for sleeves to be rolled up to bring back the marina in a newly strengthened and more resilient form. The loss of the marina facility has been an economic blow, and I’m hoping we’ll be able to spark some progress towards its redevelopment.

Rhun’s Column for the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail 18.07.18

I was pleased to be chosen in the ballot recently to present a short debate to the Assembly on a topic of my choosing.

Having been impressed by hearing of (and seeing for myself during a recent visit) the excellent work done at the Bangor University Ocean Science department at Menai Bridge and being aware of Anglesey’s potential when it comes to marine energy as well as research, I decided to use my time in the Assembly chamber to discuss the future of the research vessel Prince Madog.

I’m sure that the Prince Madog will be a familiar site to many of you who have seen it tied to the pier in Menai Bridge. It’s the largest ship to be seen regularly on the Menai Strait and all those who are proud of it know it’s a symbol of excellence in the School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor.

My debate not only celebrated that role, but also pressed on Welsh Government the importance of the Prince Madog now and its national potential for years to come, making the case for it to be made into a National Marine Research Vessel for Wales. Ireland already has two!

The Wales marine area includes valuable and varied natural resources that can provide significant economic and social opportunities, and which contribute to the well-being of the nation and of future generations. But, in reality, we know virtually nothing about those resources. It’s staggering how little of our sea bed has been mapped, given the detailed onshore mapping.

Mapping of this kind is a priority on an EU level and has been for some time, but there has been no co-ordinated plan for the UK—no plan for Wales. The process of gathering data has been ad hoc. It hasn’t been properly co-ordinated, and that must change. Of course, we have the resource that we need to do that work: the Prince Madog. Let’s be innovative and make it happen.

The pupils of Ysgol David Hughes certainly know a thing or two about innovation! I had a great time talking business and entrepreneurship at the Ysgol David Hughes Innovation Fair last week. It was a fair full of great ideas and a great group of students. Last year, the fair was where Arfordir Clothing began, and they’ve gone from strength to strength, having just launched a new product. We need to support and promote these young entrepreneurs. Go for it with your plans! – I wish you all the best.

Rhun’s Column for the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail 25 04 18

“Smile!” Clad in lycra a group of intrepid cyclists took a final photo before their ride from Anglesey to Cardiff, and I joined them to wish them well. The 200 mile journey ahead would make some cry rather than smile! However, I’ve done it myself, and know how rewarding it is to reach the journey’s end – especially having raised money for or awareness of a good cause.

In this case it was the new St David’s Hospice being opened at Ysbyty Penrhos Stanley in Holyhead. The Chairman of Trustees, Lyndon Miles was among the cyclists. Since opening in 1998, the St David’s Hospice in Llandudno has provided the best possible palliative care for thousands of people in Ynys Môn, Gwynedd and Conwy. Now that care is set to be offered closer to home for people on Anglesey. I’m grateful to the St David’s team for their commitment to the island.

I made it to Cardiff by less exhausting means, where I was able to put a number of Anglesey issues on the agenda. I asked the Environment Minister to explain why staff monitoring Afon Cefni to help plan new flood defences have been moved to other duties. It’s not good enough – we need answers to the flooding threat with some urgency, in Llangefni and elsewhere.

Also weather-related, we’re still dealing with the effects of Storm Emma. After the destruction of the Marina, I’m glad to say we’re getting closer to the first meeting of a Holyhead Port Users Group, which I’ll co-chair with the island’s MP. I also paid a visit to Moelfre last week to see the effects of the storm there. I’ll help liaise with the local authority on what needs to be done to deal with the impact the storm had on the village’s pebble beach.

Finally – a political storm hit Cardiff Bay last week with the Labour Welsh Government threatening to take the Assembly to court to stop it discussing a report linked to the death of AM Carl Sargeant. I was bitterly dissapointed in the Government’s actions. The Assembly is there to hold Government to account – not the other way around!

Having said that it might help with the important task of helping people distinguish between the Assembly and the Government. The Assembly is the democratic voice of Wales. YOUR voice. Government – which can be changed at any election – must respect it always.

Rhun’s Column for the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail 11.04.18

Many Mail readers will have followed closely the row over plans by the RSPB to charge visitors £5 to park at South Stack. I have been deeply uncomfortable about the proposed charge.

I wrote last month to the head of the RSPB in Wales, and met her at South Stack at the beginning of last week. I asked for a rethink, highlighting the importance of South Stack to the people of Holyhead and Anglesey, and asking for a more sensitive plan to be developed.

I suggested a number of models – from an annual pass for local users to separate long and short-term parking areas, or varied pricing. I also asked that proceeds should be shared with the social enterprise running the lighthouse – after all, that’s why many go to South Stack, as wonderful as the birdlife there is.

I listened to the RSPB, too. I was told there was no real alternative. Their grant funding has reduced over the years, and they need to make South Stack sustainable. The charge would be £2.50 out of peak season, not £5. It would be free before 9 and after 5 – ideal for regular local visitors and dog-walkers etc. (positive information that the RSPB should have publicised, surely?). But I still wanted compromise.

Thankfully, a strong campaign had grown since the proposed charge became public, and I’m grateful for all those who lobbied the RSPB hard. Later last week, the RSPB said they would now introduce a £20 annual pass, available to residents of Ynys Cybi. It’s a start, but not yet enough. It’s still a fair amount to stump up, and the net could be cast wider. There’s also the issue of sharing proceeds. But we do now have some movement.

So let’s continue to use the power of persuasion… and I’d also like the RSPB to use the power of research so they can work out much better how the charge would affect local users and affect their income, including by visitors to their cafe, for example.

South Stack may belong legally to the RSPB, but we on Anglesey know it belongs to all of us really.

Rhun ap Iorwerth’s Column for the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail 14 02 18

I’m pleased to report, first of all, that your Assembly Member is still in one piece after another tough Assembly v Commons/Lords rugby clash! It is an annual event, held on the day of the Wales v England 6 Nations Fixture. The Assembly won again (for the 7th game in succession) on Saturday, but more importantly we were able once again to raise awareness of our partner Charity, Bowel Cancer UK/Beating Bowel Cancer. My Plaid Cymru colleague Steffan Lewis is currently fighting bowel cancer, and our thoughts were with him as we took to the field at Rosslyn Park in London.

Also on a sporting theme, a word of thanks to Ray Williams of the Holyhead and Anglesey Weightlifting and Fitness Club for giving such compelling evidence to the Assembly’s Health Committee last week on the need for urgent measures to increase physical activity among young people. I wanted him to come to talk to us because I know what a passionate and knowledgeable advocate he is in this field. It’s up to us as Assembly Members now to press the case for Government action.

My exercise with a special group of school pupils on Anglesey last week was mental rather than physical. It’s always good to meet up with pupils, but I must say a big thanks to year 3 and 4 pupils at Ysgol Henblas for doing such good homework before our meeting, that I faced an hour and a half of non-stop questions. I really enjoyed myself with you – diolch bawb.

Our physical activity enquiry in the Health Committee is aimed at pupils just like them – giving them every opportunity to stay fit and healthy. As well as being good for them, it’s part of the long-term strategy we need to take the pressure off the NHS and care system – keeping people healthy and out of hospital. My visit to the morning “safety huddle” at Ysbyty Gwynedd the week before last showed me the kind of pressure they’re under. To all the doctors, nurses, managers and other staff, thanks for the welcome and the insight.

Rhun’s column in the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail 13 09 17

Meetings over the past few days have reminded me just how important it is that Welsh Government recognises the support needed by some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. ‘Supporting People’ funding contributes towards a wide range of support networks, and if funding is cut, the effect will be felt directly by some of those who need help most.

Homelessness is something most people will be lucky enough to avoid, but our circumstances can change very quickly, leaving us vulnerable in ways we never thought possible. Far too many people – young and old – find themselves, for whatever reason, and through no fault of their own, unable to get a roof over their head.

That’s why groups such as Digartref Ynys Mon and Gorwel who I met this week, provide a vital service. There are other groups, too, many of whom I have met in the past and look forward to working with them again.

But their services cost money, and Supporting People funds have become the backbone of much of what they do. Funding has already been cut over the past few years, but there comes a point where non-profit making organisations such as these can’t face any more of a squeeze. I will look for opportunities to remind Welsh Government of the dangers of making cuts in these areas.

I will also keep up the pressure to improve mobile and broadband connection. I hope those who came along to an event I put on at Cartio Mon last week found it useful. It was a chance for individuals and businesses to chat directly with Welsh Government, Openreach, Vodafone and EE about their needs and frustrations. (And I apologive to those who turned up two days late, because the wrong date was printed in a newspaper article… but my office is always open to you!)

Finally, senior Barclays managers were the latest to come to my office to explain the thinking behind yet another Bank Closure. The closure of the Amlwch branch in November is another blow to the town. We can’t and shouldn’t become immune to these closures and shrug our shoulders – and I’ll continue to argue with the big banks, as I did with Barclays on this occasion, that they’re letting down loyal customers.

Rhun’s Column for the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail 16 08 17

Ynys Môn did itself proud last week!  The success of the National Eisteddfod was built on the hard work and dedication of individuals and communities across the island over the past couple of years.  Fundraising targets were smashed, and a programme of competitions and events was put together that inspired people from all parts of Wales and beyond to come to Anglesey. They left having had the richest of experiences.  The many messages of thanks to the island for a wonderful Eisteddfod says it all.  Some rain early in the week was never going to dampen this Eisteddfod!
 
A special message of congratulations must go out to the children and young people of Anglesey who shone throughout.  From the opening concert – one of the finest in any Eisteddfod ever, in my humble opinion! – to competition winners, as soloists and members of various choirs, groups and bands, hundreds of young people will have had unforgettable experiences.  I’ll give a special mention to Côr Ieuenctid Môn, and their conductor Mari Lloyd-Pritchard, who scooped one of the Eisteddfod’s top prizes – named ‘Choir of the Festival’ late on Saturday evening.  Anyone who knows anything about the world-class standard of choral singing we currently enjoy in Wales knows this was quite an accolade.  Llongyfarchiadau mawr!
 
It was a busy week for me as your Assembly Member, too!  The Eisteddfod and politics and debate are natural bedfellows, and beyond the main pavilion’s competitions, the festival is home to countless discussions on the future of our country.
 
I was invited to give this year’s annual ‘Wales International’ (Cymru a’r Byd) lecture, and chose to focus on the need for Welsh Government to develop a strategy to engage better with Welsh ex-pats, and those of Welsh descent (or just with an interest in Wales) so we can benefit as a nation.  The more people who spread the word about Wales internationally, or who return here to spend or invest, the better. 
 
I also chaired an event calling for the training of Doctors at Bangor University.  Welsh Government is showing a real lack of leadership and ambition on this, but our NHS and patients need it.
 
So, the Eisteddfod came, and went, and left many happy memories.  From the George in Bodedern to the Iorwerth in Bryngwran and countless B&B and hotels, it has left an economic legacy as well, with many people sure to return to the island after such a warm welcome. 
 
And of course, the wonderful Anglesey Show this week proves our island can organise successful events year in year out. Let’s now plan for a successful Island Games in 2025!

Rhun’s column for the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail 02 08 17

The National Eisteddfod is nearly here. I can’t wait! Anglesey can be proud of its fundraising and preparations for this wonderful celebration of Welsh language and culture. They belongs to all of us, after all – whether or not we speak Welsh – just as our history belongs to all of us. Our history and heritage help make us what we are.

This week marks the centenary of one of the First World War’s bloodiest battles, at Passchendaele. It was there that Ellis Evans of Trawsfynydd died, and at the 1917 Eisteddfod in Birkenhead, it was announced that he’d won the Chair. The Chair was draped in a black cloth, and has ever since been referred to as ‘Cadair Ddu Penbedw’ (the Black Chair of Birkenhead).

I recently asked for Welsh Government assistance to protect memorials to the WW1 fallen – not the kind of large public memorials and cenotaphs that are already protected, but countless small ones in chapels, schools and even factories, many of which have already been lost, or are threatened. When we say “we will remember them” – we must mean it.

On Friday I visited a local history exhibition at Rhoscolyn – a wonderful exhibition, bringing together stories and memorabilia from the village’s past. It brought that history alive!

The furore over Welsh Government plans to build a giant ‘Iron Ring’ at Flint Castle showed the importance of understanding the significance of our nation’s history. We remember our history, we remember our conquest, but to put up a celebratory monument to it…?! Ministers and the ancient monument body Cadw seemingly hadn’t thought that asking Welsh taxpayers to stump up nearly £400,000 to celebrate Edward 1st’s campaign to control and opress the people of Wales with his ring of castles would lead to some raised eyebrows. Over 10,000 have signed a petition opposing it. As a result, the plan was ‘paused’. Good.

The truth is that not enough history is taught in our schools through a Welsh prism. We should all have the chance to understand the significance of events in our history, from OUR perspective – those events and forces that ‘made’ Wales, from – yes – Edward 1st’s ‘Iron Ring’, to our industrial heritage, Wales’ contribution to the world, steps taken to undermine the Welsh language, our emergence as a young democracy in recent times… There’s so much to learn.

If we don’t know where we’ve come from, we can’t decide where we want to go as a nation either.

Rhun ap Iorwerth’s column for the Holyhead and Anglesey Mail 19 07 17

I am always keen to let people know that the Assembly is their legislature, that the Senedd is their building, and the seat which I sit in in the chamber is Ynys Môn’s seat.

I was pleased therefore to be able to welcome four different schools from Anglesey to the Assembly last week and point to their seat.

And, judging by the fantastic questions the students from Ysgol y Borth, Ysgol Corn Hir, Ysgol Parc y Bont and Ysgol Llanfechell had for me during their visit, I hope that a number of them have the ambition to sit in that seat one day. They quizzed me on a number of topics – my motivations, our latest Assembly discussions, Wales’ future, and many more.

I also discussed learning additional languages with pupils from Parc y Bont and Corn Hir, and the pupils from Corn Hir are already being given French lessons on a weekly basis. As bilingual pupils, they were very eager to see opportunities to push their linguistic boundaries, and as a result of our conversation, I raised the matter with the First Minister in the chamber that afternoon.

The evidence tells us that there has been a great decline in the number of pupils learning a modern foreign language in secondary schools in Wales. I asked him to agree with the latest demand of the cross-party group that I chair, Wales International, for the talk of an ambition of creating a bilingual ‘+ 1’ Wales to now turn into action.

Learning foreign languages – and through that fostering a greater knowledge of other cultures – is an important part of making Welsh students global citizens.

Another opportunity I was pleased to see students taking advantage of recently was the chance to try new business ideas out.

I was very impressed at the recent innovation fair that took part in Ysgol David Hughes to see so much business acumen and so many exciting ideas – some of which had already turned into real businesses, such as Arfordir Clothing. I wish all the young entrepreneurs well with their ventures.