Steven Agnew to step down as leader of Green Party in NI

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Image source, PA
Image caption,
Steven Agnew has led the Green Party in Northern Ireland since 2011

The leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland, Steven Agnew, has confirmed he will step down from the role in the autumn.

The 38 year old, who has led the party for seven years, said the absence of devolved government at Stormont meant the "game has changed".

He added that he wanted to spend more time with his two young children.

Although he is giving up his leadership role, he will continue to hold his post as an assembly member for North Down.

"I have decided to make way for a new leader partly because it's what's best for the Green Party and partly because it's what's best for my family," he said.

"There is a new zeal, energy and drive among grassroots party members and I think a new leader can really shape that and drive that forward."

'Wake up thinking'

Assembly members have not been able to take their seats at Stormont since January 2017, when the power-sharing executive, led by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin, collapsed.

Earlier this year, Mr Agnew told his annual party conference that Sinn Féin and the DUP had "destroyed our assembly" and that local councils should be given a greater role in the absence of devolution.

Assembly members are still receiving full pay but in December last year, a government-ordered review recommended cutting their salaries by £13,612 as they were not taking their seats.

The paper quoted him explaining that had taken the decision because he had "two kids to care for and bills to pay".

Image caption,
In May, Mr Agnew told his party conference that Sinn Féin and the DUP had "destroyed our assembly"

In a statement on Monday, Mr Agnew said his resignation was partly due to family reasons.

"The party leadership brings with it extra hours and commitments," he said.

"My children are both in primary school now and I want to dedicate that extra time and energy to them. I used to go to bed thinking about the Green Party and waken up thinking about the Green Party.

"I now go to bed thinking about my kids and waken up thinking about them. That has really influenced my thinking."

'Emotional'

Mr Agnew added that he was "proud" of his achievements as party leader.

"It's been emotional to look back at almost eight years of leadership but I'm proud of how the party has surged forward with a four-fold increase in membership and the positive change we have made during that time."

Mr Agnew, who worked with the homeless before entering politics, joined the Green Party in 2003 after meeting the then leader Dr John Barry at a protest against the Iraq War.

He was elected leader of the party in 2011 and that same year, he was the first assembly member to bring a motion calling for same-sex marriage to be legalised.

In 2015, he succeeded in getting the assembly to pass the Children's Services Co-Operation Bill, which placed a legal duty on government agencies to co-operate when it came to children's services.

Image source, Green Party
Image caption,
Mr Agnew was photographed with Tanya Jones after she replaced Clare Bailey as deputy leader last year

"I'm proud of my record including delivering the Children's Act, leading on marriage equality and environmental justice and continually pushing for transparency and accountability in government," he said.

"The dynamic has shifted in the absence of devolved government for the last 18 months and we haven't been able to pursue our agenda through the assembly.

"I measure my success through the positive change that I've been able to make but now the game has changed."

He added that his main strength was "delivering as a parliamentarian" and he wants to see devolution restored so he can represent his constituents in the chamber.

It is the second change to the party's leadership team in less than a year.