Monday, 12 November 2018

Muir continues campaign for review of Road Closure Legislation

Enacted during the dying days of the last Assembly, Special Events on Roads – road
(Miscellaneous Provision) Act (NI) 2010 legislation continues to have many far reaching negative consequences upon local communities and sporting bodies, with Ards Half Marathon and Groomsport 10K / Half Marathon cancelled as a direct result and even Holywood May Day Festivities endangered.

I was therefore keen to ensure we as a Council reviewed operation of the legislation and fees charged in an effort to alleviate some of the issues being encountered and submitted my motion back in June 2018 stating "That this Council requests that officers bring back a report on how the new legislation and arrangements concerning Special Events on Roads – road (Miscellaneous Provision) Act (NI) 2010 has been operating one year after enactment ton 4 September 2017 including costs charged compared to other Councils and with a specific focus concerning impact upon charitable / not for profit organisations and sporting events.”

I would like to thank Council officers for the work undertaken in this regard and comprehensive report generated for Committee in November 2018. With no functioning Assembly the opportunities for legislative change is unfortunately impeded but I look forward to the future report concerning costs charged which may, in some way, alleviate the problems being endured due to ill thought out legislation which seems to be more about bureaucratic nonsense rather than assisting local communities and sporting bodies in the positive work they do.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Alliance welcomes decision to tackle the poison of paramilitarism

The Alliance Party has welcomed a significant decision by Ards and North Down Borough Council Committee to tackle the poison of paramilitarism, winning backing for a proposal aimed at eradicating their control over local communities despite DUP and TUV objections. 

The move follows the tabling of a motion by Alliance and Green Parties plus Independent Councillor Noelle Robinson after the recent publication of Co-operation Ireland's Building Capacity in Communities in Transition report, which focused on the on-going problems and control exercised by paramilitiaries in Kilcooley, Clandeboye and Rathgill areas. The independent report from the Institute of Conflict Research was produced following consultation with a range of stakeholders and stems from Northern Ireland Executive's Action Plan to tackle paramilitary activity.

The agreed motion is now subject to ratification by full Council on 24 October 2018 and both condemns paramilitary activity and requests that Council officers bring back a report on the recommendations made in the recent Co-operation Ireland report.

Speaking after Ards and North Down Council Committee meeting, I stated "Whilst I would agree with many that other areas should have been considered, the areas concerned were identified and a report has been produced with clear stark recommendations to take forward. Take forward we must because to do anything other would, I feel, be a gross dereliction of duty as public representatives elected to office with a specific obligation to reject proscribed paramilitary organisations and a public duty to show leadership.

"The call to action from the report is clear, especially when you read findings such as "residents continue to feel intimidated and threatened by the physical and material presence of paramilitaries in their communities; particularly when it takes the form of exploitative recruitment practices, aggressive drug-dealing and loan-sharking. Interviewees report a general lack of positive political leadership  and effective civic engagement in the Council area which undermined the capacity of communities to subvert paramilitary influences".

"Twenty years on from the Good Friday Agreement this should not be the case. Paramilitary groups should not still be in existence and controlling local communities. Political leadership against their continued existence should be universal, absolute and unequivocal. Whilst I was bitterly disappointed to see a shameful abdication of responsibility by DUP and TUV who voted against taking action, preferring instead to repeat same hollow words of condemnation, I'm thankful for the support from the Ulster Unionist, Green, SDLP parties and hopeful full Council will endorse the decision to help break the stranglehold paramilitary organisations have on communities in our Borough".

Also speaking, Alliance Councillor Karen Douglas stated "Residents within our community, the overwhelming majority of whom are law abiding citizens want elected representatives to take action against the small number of self serving paramilitary criminals who are terrorising local communities. It is not enough to call paramilitaries out without backing it up with some action. Not to act, makes these hollow words. As elected representatives we have a duty to support local residents and to tackle the scourge of paramilitarism. They have no place in our community and are not wanted. Time for action is now. No more lip service.  Council should not be a talking shop; it's time for us as elected representatives to stand up with residents in the community and take action against paramilitarism. Not to do so, would be a dereliction of duty. Its time for councillors to act and not just talk.'

Wording of motion passed "That this Council notes the Fieldwork Report from Phase 1 – Building Capacity in Communities in Transition (Kilcooley and Rathgill) and clearly reiterates   the message that all criminality, organised crime and paramilitary activity is completely unacceptable in our community and requests that officers bring back a report in relation to the recommendations made."

Building Capacity to Support Transition in Kilcooley and Rathgill Report available at http://www.cooperationireland.org/programmes/community-programmes/building-capacity-in-communities-in-transition/fieldwork-reports/

Friday, 28 September 2018

Alliance bitterly disappointed as motion for LGBT equality is overturned

Alliance Councillor Gavin Walker and I have expressed our bitter disappointment after plans to express support for local LGBT people were overturned on Wednesday 26 September 2018 evening.

Passed at committee earlier this month, the plans would have seen the Council pledge that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are accepted and valued as equal citizens and that Ards Town Hall be lit up in Rainbow Colours to coincide with Pride Day.

This is a real blow to all who believe true equality should not be this hard to achieve in 2018, especially after the recent words of support from Arlene Foster which have now proven to be very hollow.

This motion was about to making a positive difference to the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people across our borough, letting them know they are accepted and valued as equal citizens. But instead, those who moved to quash this motion have sent a negative signal that Ards and North Down Council is not dedicated to working for all.

I am extremely grateful to all those who backed this motion, especially in the wake of intense criticism as others have sought to play politics with people's lives and also to the Rainbow Project and Stonewall for their help in drafting the motion, which included lighting of Ards Town Hall in rainbow colours to coincide with Pride Day.

Councillor Gavin Walker added: "As the father of a gay man, I find it upsetting that some of my council colleagues have taken such a decision - essentially signalling they do not value my son's contribution to our society. It is completely unacceptable that anyone should be made to feel different, but to be made to feel so by politicians who are supposed to stand up for everyone cannot be allowed to continue.

"As a Council we had the power to send a strong signal, to make a change that would have brought comfort and support to so many. All those who voted against this have made an uninformed decision."

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Muir expresses concern at reducing Air Quality in Holywood

With Air Quality affecting everyone across the Borough I was keen to ensure the new Council got the same regular updates as we used to get at the old legacy North Down Borough Council. I therefore requested tabling of the reports for review by Councillors and, in turn, members of the public on the Council’s website. 

I would like to thank officers for agreeing to do this and whilst Air Quality levels are generally satisfactory across the Borough I am concerned to learn that Air Quality levels have been reducing over the last number of years along the A2 near Holywood Town Centre. Whilst officers feel that objective levels will not be exceeded the risk that levels further increase is real especially with further development planned to occur in vicinity. 

I will be closely monitoring the situation which proves yet again the need for government to promote and adequately fund sustainable transport solutions to reduce the volume of traffic and thereby pollution created

Monday, 17 September 2018

Rainbow Colours to hopefully shine after proposal passed at Council Committee

Ards and North Down Alliance Councillor Gavin Walker and I have welcomed a recent decision by an Ards and North Down Borough Council Committee to back our proposal affirming that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people be accepted and valued as equal citizens with Ards Town Hall to be lit up in Rainbow Colours to coincide with Pride Day.

I presented this motion in the hope that we could make a positive difference to the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people living, working or visiting our Borough and am therefore delighted to have secured backing of the relevant Council Committee in affirming that LGBT people should be accepted and valued just like everyone else.

I am extremely grateful to all those who supported this motion and sincerely hope that Council will ratify this decision and let Ards and North Down Borough Council make history as the first Council in Northern Ireland to back such a pledge making it clear that nobody should feel that being LGBT is something to be disappointed about or ashamed of.

Full Council meeting will occur on the evening of Wednesday 26 September from 7pm where members of the public can attend and hopefully witness passing of this positive decision.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Muir secures transparency concerning Councillor attendance statistics

Ards and North Down Borough Council is set to publish attendance statistics of all elected representatives, after an Alliance motion secured the latest move towards full openness and transparency.

I managed to secure unanimous support for the plans – which will be updated on a quarterly basis going forward – since ratepayers’ deserved to know attendance rates for their elected representatives. The decision reached at the Council's Corporate Committee is now subject to formal ratification by full Council on 26 September 2018.

When elected, Councillors have a responsibility to not only articulate the concerns of their constituents, but to ensure good governance within the Council. This is primarily done by engaging with officers via the established Committee structure and full Council meetings, reviewing papers, asking questions, debating the issues and reaching decisions. Whilst simply attending meetings is not the only measure by which we should judge Councillor performance, actually being in the building, ready to work is a starting point, except, of course, if the Councillor has legitimate reason to be absent.