Spending more time with the family

I found today's news that UK Cabinet Minister Ruth Kelly has decided to quit as Transport Secretary to spend more time with her family rather interesting.

It seems to be a convenient excuse to hide her apparent discontent with Gordon Brown.

When I heard that she was leaving to spend more time with her family it conjured up memories of when Norman Fowler left Thatcher's Conservative Cabinet in 1990 to 'spend more time with his family'. Within two years he was back as Chairman of the Party, this time under the leadership of John Major.

Perhaps we will see Ruth Kelly back when a new leader eventually takes over to replace Gordon?

24 September 2008

Yes we can

Bangor today hosted The Alliance Party’s 2008 Conference at The Marine Court Hotel.

Our Party Leader David Ford MLA delivered an excellent speech remarking “I want to bring our agenda into government and deliver in the long-term where the tribal parties have failed”.

Deputy Leader Naomi Long MLA stated “The sad reality is that as Sinn Fein and the DUP continue to battle daily with each other, the biggest losers in those battles have been the people of Northern Ireland and the biggest casualty has been public confidence in politics”

Dr Stephen Farry MLA remarked “In another sense, there is growing evidence that those societies that are able to attract and sustain a mixed population tend to be more successful in that talented people are nourished. This truism illustrates the folly of the homophobia from the Iris Robinson's of this world”

Following the conference I managed to watch part of the match between Northern Ireland’s gay friendly rugby team The Ulster Titans and Bangor RFC thirds at Uprichard Park, Bangor. It was a great end to the conference which was about making the case for a Shared Future where everyone is valued and allowed to reach their full potential regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation etc.

During the morning session of the Conference I was given the opportunity to speak on a motion calling for publication of the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy. Below is the speech I delivered.

Conference, it gives me great pleasure to speak to you in support of this motion at what is my first Alliance Party Conference.

Everywhere I go in Northern Ireland I hear the same message. We want change.

The people of Northern Ireland are fed up with bickering and bigotry and want a government with ambition that dares to hope.

We live in a region where only 3% of people would object to having a person of the opposite religion as a neighbour. A region where over 70% of people wouldn’t mind if a relative or friend was in a relationship with a gay person.

But yet we have an Executive with Ministers and a First Lady preaching intolerance and prejudice.

People want a change. People want a political system which reflects the new Northern Ireland.

At the heart of the New Northern Ireland must be a society which embraces and celebrates diversity.

Government can help deliver this by providing leadership and a strategy for a Shared Future.

When devolution returned last year we were promised a new bigger and better strategy for a Shared Future but we are still waiting. It’s no where to be found.

Maybe CSI should be put onto the case to find the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy because it seems to be unlawfully at large.

Whilst the Executive dithers and delays The Alliance Party need to continue making the case for diversity.

We need to outline not merely the costs of segregation but rather the opportunities of diversity.

Recent research has proven that cities, towns and regions which embrace and celebrate diversity attract high value knowledge based industries. We need to continually remind people and other political parties that intolerant and prejudicial attitudes don’t just harm minorities but also the economy we all thrive off.

We need to end the poverty of aspiration where people fail to hope beyond today, neglect to look to tomorrow and forget that bigotry and division not only damages lives but deters investment and consumes public expenditure.

We must continue spreading the Alliance message of hope and aspiration at every opportunity, whether it be in Council chambers, at the Assembly or maybe at the Executive table.

The people of Northern Ireland are increasingly looking for leadership, hope and change.

Day after day they ask the Executive parties whether they can deliver and the answer is a resounding no.

The only future the Executive parties offer is a mirror image of the past.

To those who ask whether Alliance can deliver my answer to you today is Yes we can.

Saturday 20 September 2008

An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind

Yesterday I visited a number of historic buildings as part of the European Heritage Open Days. I visited Crumlin Road Gaol (HMP Belfast), Freemason’s Hall in Arthur Square, Cornmarket Belfast and then Stranmillis House and grounds.

Photos of Crumlin Road Gaol at

Part of the tour of Crumlin Road Gaol involved viewing the condemned man’s cell, the execution chamber and the graves of the people executed at the prison.

I found these parts of the tour particularly disturbing. Human life is, I believe, sacred. For the State to take a citizens life is, I believe, fundamentally wrong.

Some argue that execution for murder is necessary in order to ensure appropriate punishment is enacted. The words of Martin Luther King adequately summarise why such an approach is flawed when he stated that “an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind”.

Sunday 14 September 2008

XL have excelled in causing misery and chaos

Early on Friday 12 September 2008 morning at about quarter past midnight a friend who works at Belfast International Airport sent me a text message informing me that another airline had went bust, this time XL.

I quickly realised this was the company who my mum and step dad were on holiday with. They had left over a week earlier for a Caribbean Cruise and were due to dock in Florida on Saturday 13 September to then spend a week in Florida before returning home on Friday 19 September 2008.

I quickly tried to research whether they would have somewhere to stay in Florida and be able to fly back but was confronted with loads of mixed messages.

Whilst getting ready for work on Friday morning I sent an exasperated text message to BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme commenting “Looks like XL have excelled in causing misery and chaos My mum & dad are stranded in the USA What an awful end to a holiday Andrew Bangor”. Within twenty minutes I was on air talking about the situation.

You can listen to my interview at

I also spoke on Citybeat and appeared in the Newsletter concerning my parents predicament.

As an update I can inform people that the hotel has allowed them to remain in Florida for the remaining week of their holiday and the Civil Aviation Authority are organising their return flight to the UK later this week. Some of their tickets to Theme Parks purchased via XL haven’t however been accepted.

As I stated on the radio people go on holiday to relax and enjoy a hassle free break not to worry about how to get home.

With more airlines and holiday companies likely to go bankrupt in the next few months it’s about time government reviewed the arrangements that are in place if companies go into administration. Arrangements should be simplified so that everyone is given the same support, regardless as to whether they booked with a credit or debit card or through ABTA bonded companies.

Sunday 14 September 2008

Helping charities at the press of a button

On Monday evening I listened to an interesting article on BBC Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra programme where people withdrawing money from cash machines in Columbia are given the opportunity to donate 30p, 60p or 90p to charity at the press of a button.

Matthew Parris spoke about the scheme which allows people to press a button before finishing the transaction. A small amount of money is then transferred from your Bank Account to a nominated charity e.g. a Children’s Charity.

As Matthew stated, it’s a simple idea which could result in an awful lot of money for needy causes with many people often not refusing to make such a small donation.

Maybe something banks in Northern Ireland and the UK should consider introducing?

10 September 2008

Time for an end to the circus

I have just realised that I haven’t blogged for a while so here goes.

Over the last week a few issues have caught my attention.

John McCain’s surprise choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate for Vice President is amazing. As Mark Devenport notes on his blog
entitled “Sarah Palin MLA” her views seem to be very well aligned to DUP politicians such as Iris Robinson and Jim Shannon.

Sarah Palin’s views are so extreme that Obama might now be seen as “the establishment”.

Talking about Obama, his recent pledge to end US reliance on oil from the Middle East is refreshing but bizarre. Most nations are looking to reduce their carbon emissions to address the fear of global warming whilst, for the USA, their move to reduce carbon emissions is being driven by pure self interest rather than for global good.

On the subject of the DUP, their position with regards to the IRA Army Council now appears to be completely farcical. What do they want? Army Council to meet in order to agree not to meet? It’s about time they stopped looking over their shoulders to the TUV and arranged for the devolution of all local issues including Policing and Justice by the end of 2008.

Whilst we are discussing local politicians it seems apt to mention my concerns relating to a circus in Dundonald, home of the NI Assembly. The circus in question isn’t the NI Assembly but rather the “Australian Super Circus” which opens on 10 September 2008 on Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast.

I am not aware whether local politicians will be appearing as the clowns but regardless as to whether they will appear I am strongly opposed to this circus.

The “Super Circus” will feature elephants, kangaroos, emus, horses, dogs and ostrich.

Animals used in circuses are captives who are forced to perform confusing, uncomfortable, repetitious, and often-painful acts.

They often endure cruel training methods, suffer cramped confinement, unacceptable travel conditions and poor treatment.

I therefore call on the public to boycott this circus when it comes to town.

Friday 5 September 2008.