Launch of GLAD

Earlier this week I had the pleasure to attend the launch of Gay and Lesbian across Down (GLAD) on Monday 10 March 2008 at Betty Blacks.

I am really proud to have worked with others to establish North Down and Ards LGBT group in January 2007.

Over a year later it was amazing to celebrate our First Birthday and launch a re-branded group now known as GLAD with a new name, wider remit and enhanced range of services.

Monday night was one of the proudest moments in my life, for the reason I detailed on the night.

“Back in 1996 when I came out as a gay man I was living Bangor. It was a completely different place than today. I felt excluded, isolated and alone. Today in 2008 I am now again living in Bangor. I feel valued in a part of Northern Ireland which embraces diversity and provides hope of the future.

I am truly impressed to have so many local Councillors and MLAs present here tonight. Your support for us is greatly appreciated.”

To have Mayor of North Down Councillor Doctor Stephen Farry MLA, North Down Ulster Unionist MLA Alan McFarland, Ulster Unionist Councillor James McKerrow and Chief Superintendent Graham Shields present meant the world to me.

To receive endorsement from such a wide range of people sent a strong message to me and other lesbian, gay and bisexual people that being gay is okay.

It was also great for Betty Blacks to openly welcome us to their premises.

I look forward to the future with lots of hope and tons of enthusiasm.

Victoria Square, a celebration and challenge

I decided to visit the Victoria Square Shopping Centre in Belfast yesterday. Two words immediately came to my mind when I viewed the new centre. Celebration and challenge.

Victoria Square is a fantastic celebration of the economic success Northern Ireland has enjoyed post ceasefires.

Victoria Square is also a massive challenge. A challenge to society to reach out and include those who have been left behind by the economic progress that has occurred. Those who continue to live in poverty and those excluded due to the intolerance and ignorance of others.

The opening of Victoria Square should provide the impetus to everyone across Northern Ireland to work together to create an inclusive shared society.

First Alliance Party event

Attend my first official Alliance Party event today in South Belfast. Annual General Meeting and quarterly Council meeting.

A warm welcome was again extended and already feel at home with friends.

Got the opportunity to speak and was warmly received. It's clear now that The Alliance Party are the only vehicle for a Shared Society.

Delivered the following speech:

Alliance Party Council 1 March 2008, Andrew Muir speech

Council, fellow Alliance Party members, some of your may be aware that I recently left the SDLP to join Alliance.

The reasons why I left the SDLP have been well reported.

Today I want to talk about why I joined Alliance.

I want to talk about the future, not the past.

My decision to join Alliance was, like most people, driven by my heart and my head.

In my heart I dream of a Shared Society.

In my head I know that without a Shared Society we cannot have the strong economy and sustainable environment that Northern Ireland urgently needs.

But why do I dream of a Shared Society.

The answer is simple.

“Separate but equal is not an option. Parallel living and the provision of parallel services are unsustainable both morally and economically”

Not my words but the words of “A Shared Future”.

No wonder Sinn Fein and the DUP want to get rid of it.

Without parallel living their own future as political parties is in doubt.

We all know the economic costs of division. Spending £1.5billion each year on segregation cannot continue. A strong economy and sustainable environment cannot be built whilst we waste 20% of our budget every single year.

The lack of a Shared Society frustrates me intensely.

Day after day I see, feel and taste division and discrimination.

I see an economy struggling to compete on the world stage.

I feel my own pain when I recall the lives lost of friends through suicide, caused because of the intolerance of others.

I taste it when my own stomach churns after I recall the worlds of a former Junior Minister who described me a repulsive, offensive and obnoxious simply because I am gay.

For Northern Ireland to have a truly Shared Society political parties such as the DUP and Sinn Fein need to contemplate their own demise.

Until they make that decision it’s up to Alliance to help them along.

Thus far I think we have been doing a very good job.

But what does that Shared Society look like?

In some ways its uncomfortable reading, even for me.

In the New Northern Ireland diversity is embraced.

That means that everyone, yes everyone, is treated as equal citizens.

Members of the travelling community, people with disabilities, lesbian and gay people, foreign nationals, transsexual people, even Ian Paisley Junior are welcomed and embraced.

For the last number of years Alliance has shown that they are the only political party capable of delivering that New Northern Ireland.

It is for that very reason that I joined Alliance.

Alliance have the courage to dream beyond today.

It’s time for a strong economy

It’s time for a sustainable environment

It’s time for a Shared Society

It’s time for Alliance