Monday, 16 November 2009

North Down Alliance Insight

November 2009: North Down Alliance discuss ongoing developments at Stormont

A well attended Executive Committee meeting for the North Down Association of the Alliance Party took place on Monday 9 November 2009 and focused on ongoing developments at Stormont.

Alliance MLA for North Down Dr Stephen Farry provided a briefing on a range of issues ranging from the Review of Public Administration and proposed merger between North Down and Ards Councils to ongoing discussions concerning the devolution of Policing and Justice.

Alliance Councillor for Bangor West, Tony Hill, was also in attendance and updated Committee members on his efforts as Mayor of North Down, noting that the recent Remembrance Sunday Ceremony in Bangor had been well attended.

Association Chairperson Neil Dickey encouraged committee members to attend the forthcoming Christmas Reception whilst Alliance Councillor for Ballyholme and Groomsport Alderman Marsden Fitzsimmons updated those present on issue of speed calming measures.

16 November 2009

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

North Down Alliance Insight

October 2009: Exciting programme of events ahead for North Down Alliance

The Executive Committee for the North Down Association of The Alliance Party met on Monday 5 October 2009 and discussed an extensive programme of events leading up to a Christmas Reception for local members on Saturday 12 December 2009.

Many members of the party indicated their eagerness to attend the event involving Rt Hon Charles Kennedy MP on Saturday 10 October 2009 at the Premier Inn Hotel in the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast.

Arrangements were made to attend the reception at Parliament Buildings during late November 2009. The committee felt that this event will be a valuable opportunity to meet the many new people who have recently joined the party.

Alliance Party MLA for North Down Dr Stephen Farry reminded those present that the Northern Ireland Assembly Road show will be visiting Bangor on Thursday 15 October 2009 at the Marine Court Hotel, Bangor from 7.30pm.

The group were updated by Alliance Councillor for Ballyholme and Groomsport Alderman Marsden Fitzsimmons concerning ongoing work to foster relations with Bobbio in Italy due to the Christian Heritage connections between Bangor and Bobbio.

Association Chairman Neil Dickey commended Councillor Tony Hill for his ongoing work as Mayor of North Down whilst the Committee unanimously supported the Alliance Party's continued stance calling for All Party Talks to resolve the post-primary transfer crisis.

7 October 2009

Friday, 17 July 2009

North Down Alliance Insight

June 2009: North Down Alliance celebrate excellent Euro Poll result

The recent European Parliamentary election result was high on the agenda when the Alliance Party in North Down met on Monday 29 June 2009.

All present at the Executive Committee for the North Down Association of the Alliance Party commended local Councillor Ian Parsley on the excellent result achieved. Committee members were delighted that the party achieved it’s best result since it first stood in European elections. All were in agreement with Ian Parsley’s comment following the election that "I hope this result has helped to restore the faith of young people in politics".

The group were also in agreement with David Ford’s comments as Party Leader when he stated "Ian fought an excellent campaign and this is a great result. His positive approach to politics is a breath of fresh air and the people of Northern Ireland have in this result recognised his massive potential. To have achieved our best result in a European election since 1979 shows that the future is extremely bright for Alliance."

Following discussion on the Euro Poll the committee discussed the forthcoming Summer Fair due to take place at the Marquis Hall, Castle Park, Bangor on Saturday 8 August 2009 from 10am. Arrangements were made for a wide array of stalls in order to ensure the event retains its popularity.

The issue of flags was raised and unanimous support given to local MLA Stephen Farry and North Down Mayor Councillor Tony Hill for the stances they have adopted concerning the matter.

An update was provided concerning Marine Gardens development at Queen’s Parade with everyone present encouraged to make a response to the consultation being undertaken by the Department for Social Development. North Down Alliance MLA reminded those present that the consultation deadline is Friday 24 July 2009.

Those present were also informed that the two new recycling facilities are now officially open with a general opinion expressed that North Down should be commended for taking the lead in encouraging people to reduce, reuse and recycle.

17 July 2009

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Northern Ireland becomes more intolerant

The Equality Commission today published research concerning public attitudes towards minorities in Northern Ireland.

I don't intend to write too much about the research but one thing stands out clearly. According to the research the public in Northern Ireland have become more intolerant of minorities.

In 2005 when the research was first carried out 38% of people surveyed stated that they would mind if a friend or relative entered into a relationship with a traveller. In 2008 this has risen to 51%.

Similarly, in 2005 29% of people surveyed stated that they would mind if a relative or friend entered into a relationship with a lesbian, gay or bisexual person. In 2008 this has risen to 35%.

We can debate at length why Northern Ireland has become more intolerant but it's clear to me that a lot of blame can be apportioned to the two dominant parties within Northern Ireland's Executive, namely the DUP and Sinn Fein.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have failed to take any decisive pro-active action in government to promote diversity and tackle intolerance. We are still waiting for a new Shared Future strategy after previously being told it would be published by Halloween 2008. The Executive seems to be seriously riven with divisions. As a result no meaningful decisions are being made nor is any decisive leadership being shown that is required to create a new Northern Ireland which is more tolerant of
all people, including travellers and gay people.

In this vacuum it is not surprising that public are becoming more intolerant of minorities with people such as the First Minister's Wife Iris Robinson MP MLA fanning the flames of hate after using the words "
disgusting, loathed, physical disgust, nauseous, shamefully wicked, vile, an abomination
" to refer to homosexuality in 2008.

24 June 2009

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Run Andrew Run

Some people many have noticed that I have recently taken up road running and have been competing in 10k runs since March 2009 when I took part in the Between the Bridges 10k run along the Westlink in Belfast.

Before
Between the Bridges I didn't really like running. I found it to be a painful and uncomfortable experience. When I achieved a respectable time of 47mins 49secs at Between the Bridges I guessed that I had found a sport I was actually good at. Since Between the Bridges I bought decent running shoes (Asics GT-2140) and have competed in six runs, mainly 10k apart from one 5k in Ballysillan. The new running shoes immediately eliminated the pain I had previously experienced. I joined North Down Athletics Club in late April 09 and have benefited from many useful training tips which have made running a really pleasant experience, other than when I am pushing myself to the limit over the finishing line! Membership of North Down AC is also providing me with the opportunity to share my running passion with other likeminded people.

As the weeks progressed it was apparent that I was completing 10k runs in about 42 minutes. I therefore set myself a target to run 10k in under 40 minutes by the end of the year, ideally at
Bangor 10k on 26 September 09. Never in my wildest thoughts did I feel that I would achieve this target so quickly when I completed a 10k run in 39mins 46secs at the Lisburn 10k on Wednesday 17 June 09.

I readily admit that running is fast becoming a big part of my life. I still feel a sense of elation days later after breaking the 40 minute barrier on Wednesday at the Lisburn 10k.

No sooner have I completed a 10k run am I eagerly looking forward to my next competition, running five times a week in preparation. Some people may feel that this is an unhealthy bizarre obsession but I disagree.

I deal with injuries when they arise and have managed to maintain a decent social life plus my range of voluntary commitments with community groups and The Alliance Party.

I find that running is good for my mind and body whilst also relatively cheap and less time consuming as many other sports. It is also providing me with a great sense of confidence. Every good running time is an amazing achievement for me. Running through the finishing line makes gives me a real sense of pride in myself and also
North Down AC.

When attending school I was often told by many people that I was useless at sport, defined often as football and rugby. I now feel that I have found a sport that I truly enjoy and am pretty decent at. I am really enjoying meeting the many great people within the world of running and love coming home with a real sense of personal achievement.

Hopefully as each race passes I will stop boring you with my running stories. In the meantime please bear with me. Hopefully this blog explains why I am now in love with running.

21 June 2009

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

North Down Alliance Insight

May 2009: North Down Alliance prepare for series of Summer events

The Executive Committee for the North Down Association of the Alliance Party met on Monday 18 May 2009 in Bangor and discussed a wide range of issues.

The Association finalised details of a number of exciting fundraising events to take place during the Summer including a Barbeque and Summer Fair.

Whilst most of the meeting focused on the forthcoming European Parliamentary Elections time was spent addressing other matters.

Alderman Marsden Fitzsimmons updated those present on the Castle Park Walled Garden with a great turnout at the recent official opening. 

The new plans for Queens Parade were given a generally positive reception with an update provided in relation to the Department for Social Development’s ongoing work to devise a Master plan for Bangor.

The recent renewable energy grant for the new leisure centre was warmly welcomed.

North Down Alliance MLA Stephen Farry also updated members on current developments at Stormont with all in agreement that the Executive should be taking more decisive action on important matters such as post primary transfer.

3 June 2009

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Auschwitz

On Wednesday 20 May 2009 I visited Auschwitz as part of my trip to Krakow, Poland. I have always wanted to visit Auschwitz since learning about the Holocaust in an effort to better understand the genocide which occurred during the 1930s and 1940s.

I was profoundly effected by the visit and found it difficult to absorb what I saw and learnt for many days.

Some things were simply appalling, including seeing vast amounts of human hair and some of the cloth they made using the hair which was cut off prisoners prior to gassing. It was also shocking to learn that when prisoners were gassed and cremated they then used their ashes within the foundations of roads. 

I will forever remember what I saw, including the living conditions for prisoners, torture methods used and how millions of people were executed in such a methodical manner with gas chambers operating like production lines.

A few days after my visit one thing is clear. The battle to safeguard Human Rights must continue. People continue to be denied basic Human Rights, over 64 years after the liberation of Auschwitz.

As Martin Luther King stated “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.

Propelled by what I saw and learnt at Auschwitz I will continue to speak out and work with the variety of organisations I am involved with, advocating for lesbian and gay equality and fundamental Human Rights for everyone through organisations such as Amnesty International.

Whilst it can sometimes be difficult to speak out, the words of Martin Niemöller, Pastor (held in Dachau) are particularly relevant;

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
Then they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
I did not protest;
I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out for me

Sunday 31 May 2009

Sunday, 26 April 2009

North Down Alliance Insight

April 2009: North Down Alliance looking forward to European Elections

The Executive Committee for the North Down Association of the Alliance Party met on Monday 20 April 2009 in Bangor and discussed a wide range of issues.

High on the agenda was the forthcoming European Parliamentary Elections due to take place on Thursday 4 June 2009.

The Committee discussed the extensive efforts in place to promote the Alliance Party’s candidate for the elections, Councillor Ian Parsley. 

It was generally felt that the Election provided the opportunity for the Alliance Party to conduct a campaign which, in the words of Ian Parsley, replaces “the politics of fear with the politics of hope”.

Following the discussion on the European elections local MLA Stephen Farry provided an update on the current situation at the NI Assembly. 

General dismay was expressed in relation to the dogmatic approach being adopted by the Minister for Education in relation to the 11 plus with a number of people expressing the opinion that the Alliance Party’s position in relation to post primary transfer was correct and practical.

The meeting also discussed the recent matters concerning Policing and Justice. It was felt that big changes were ahead with both the Chief Constable and Deputy Chief Constable soon due to leave but all were in agreement that the recent attacks by dissident republican terrorists should not be allowed to bring Northern Ireland back to the dark days of the past.

The Association meeting also discussed future fundraising events including a Coffee morning to take place during April 2009 and joint quiz with the Alliance Party’s Strangford Association scheduled for May 2009. Members were also reminded that to prepare for the Annual Summer barbeque in June and Summer Fair, due to take place in August 2009.

26 April 2009

Thursday, 26 February 2009

North Down Alliance Insight

February 2009: North Down Alliance meet to discuss ongoing political developments

The Executive Committee for the North Down Association of the Alliance Party met on Monday 16 February 2009 in Bangor and discussed a wide range of issues.

A future programme of fundraising events was agreed with outline arrangements made for the next event which will be a joint quiz with the Alliance Party’s Strangford Association.  It was also agreed to again run popular events such as the coffee morning, barbeque and Summer Fair.

A number of issues of political concern were discussed including the recent comments by Environment Minister Sammy Wilson concerning Climate Change, the Eames Bradley report on the past, the 11 plus, Belfast City Airport’s application to extend their runway and the forthcoming European Parliamentary Elections.

The Association was unanimous in its condemnation of Sammy Wilson’s recent comments concerning Climate Change and actions concerning the television advertisement which encourages people to make their contribution to tackling Climate Change by turning off appliances rather than leaving them in standby mode.

It was generally felt that the Eames Bradley Consultative Group on the Past had a lot of merit except for the recommendation concerning £12,000 payment to all victims which was considered to be ill judged. 

Local Alliance MLA Dr Stephen Farry briefed members on the Alliance Party’s stance concerning the ongoing saga with regards to the 11 plus and academic selection. Following an extensive debate it was agreed that the Alliance Party stance supporting a selection test formally organised by government was preferable as an interim option for the next two years compared to the unregulated situation which may develop later in 2009.

The Association backed requests for an Public Inquiry into Belfast City Airport’s application to extend their runway and expressed their continuing support for the Alliance Party’s Councillors on North Down Borough Council in their efforts to deliver quality services whilst keeping costs down and promoting North Down as a good place to work, live and visit.

Association Executive Committee Chairperson Neil Dickey closed the meeting thanking everyone for their attendance and reminding those present that the Alliance Party AGM would take place on Saturday 28 February 2009.

26 February 2009

Monday, 9 February 2009

North Down Alliance Insight

North Down Alliance Insight

January 2009: New team elected to lead Alliance Party in North Down during 2009 

The Alliance Party in North Down recently held their Annual General Meeting in Bangor on Wednesday 28 January 2009.

Outgoing office bearers were given an opportunity to address the meeting before the election of a new Executive Committee. The meeting was then concluded by Eileen Bell CBE who provided an interesting insight into her time as Speaker of the Transitional NI Assembly.

North Down Association Executive Chairperson Neil Dickey addressed the party members present, reviewing the previous year and outlining his hopes for the future. Commenting, Neil remarked that, in many aspects, 2008 had been an unremarkable year with devolution relatively stable and the Alliance Party continuing to play a constructive role in the NI Assembly. Concluding, Neil stated that he hoped that Northern Ireland continued to experience the relative political stability experienced during 2008 for the forthcoming months whilst Northern Ireland experiences the effects of the global economic downturn.

Executive Secretary Michael Watts contrasted his remarks to the charismatic words used by US President Barack Obama during his recent Inauguration speech. Michael commented that 2008 had been a relatively successful year for the Alliance Party in North Down with many valuable fundraising events and a growing membership base. Looking ahead into 2009, Michael expressed confidence that we would be able to overcome the obstacles faced as a result of the “credit crunch”.

Outgoing Executive Treasurer Emma Bell reported a healthy state of finances and was thanked by all present for her service as Treasurer.

The North Down Association then elected it’s Executive Committee members with Jean Green re-elected as President, Neil Dickey as Chairperson and Michael Watts as Secretary.

A number of new faces were also elected with Andrew Muir elected as Vice Chairperson and Media Officer, Chris Mackey as Treasurer and Bryan Ardill as Membership Secretary.

Following the election of the Executive Committee and office bearers, Mrs Eileen Bell CBE addressed the meeting.

Eileen provided a remarkable account of her time as Speaker, recalling some of the highs and lows, ranging from lunch with The Queen to the events at Parliament Buildings on 24 November 2006 involving Michael Stone and Devolution Day on 8 May 2007 when Dr Ian Paisley MP MLA was elected as First Minister and Martin McGuinness MP MLA as deputy First Minister.

Eileen detailed the nature of her current commitments including acting as Legislative Advisor for Autism NI and serving as Chairperson of Women into Politics.

People were then given an opportunity to view her CBE medal and a number of relevant questions were posed.

The meeting then concluded at approximately 9.30pm with all in agreement that it had been an interesting meeting touching upon relevant topics of particular interest.

9 February 2009

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Holocaust Memorial Day – time for a change?

Last night I attended Northern Ireland’s Holocaust Memorial Day Event at the Braid Centre in Ballymena, County Antrim.

Bruce Robinson, Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and Secretary to the NI Executive was in attendance along with Maurice Mills, Mayor of Ballymena and others, including, for example, Sir Reg Empey, Minister for Employment and Learning, Alliance Party Leader David Ford MLA, Alliance Party MLA Trevor Lunn, Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay plus SDLP MLA and Ballymena Deputy Mayor Declan O’Loan MLA.

The stories provided were moving and the opportunity for reflection was worthwhile and emotive.

I did however leave with a feeling that the Northern Ireland Executive is failing the people and that lesbian, gay and bisexual people remain second class citizens, still sidelined in Northern Ireland when we are meant to be welcoming everyone previously affected by the Holocaust.

No Minister from OFMDFM bothered to turn up, not even a Junior Minister. It fell instead to a Civil Servant to appear. On a day when the issues of division and intolerance were again highlighted in the NI Assembly neither Peter Robinson nor Martin McGuinness nor Gerry Kelly nor Jeffrey Donaldson bothered to travel to Ballymena.

For those who are not aware, the Holocaust affected many people including Jews, people from Poland, Asia, Eastern Europe, Soviet Union and Africa, members of the travelling community, people with disabilities, lesbian, gay and bisexual people, transsexual people, political opponents and religious dissidents such as communists, trade unionists plus Jehovah's Witnesses.

I was therefore incredulous when Maurice Mills opened the event considering the fact that he had previously remarked;

"The recent Hurricane Katrina descended on New Orleans and took many people suddenly into eternity. However, the media failed to report that the hurricane occurred just two days prior to the annual homosexual event called the Southern Decadence Festival which the previous year had attracted an estimated 125,000 people. Surely this is a warning to nations where such wickedness is increasingly promoted and practised."

As if this wasn’t enough, I was then astounded to hear Bruce Robinson substituting sexual orientation with the word lifestyle when listing the people affected by the Holocaust.

For those who are unaware, lesbian, gay and bisexual people don’t choose their sexuality like choosing what clothes to wear. Any implication that sexuality is a lifestyle choice is extremely offensive since it implies that it is something that can be changed, giving credibility to blatantly homophobic opinions adopted by people such as Iris Robinson.

After visiting tonight’s event it is increasingly obvious to me that some people involved in the government and politics of Northern Ireland often preach tolerance and acceptance only to then add a BUT when it comes to some minorities such as lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Since the return of devolution I am now increasingly of the opinion that we need a fresh approach from the Community and Voluntary Sector to deliver a new Northern Ireland which accepts everyone.

I am currently pondering the exact nature of this new approach and whether it should be of a gradual or more radical nature.

I have however already formed an opinion in relation to two matters, namely that people like Maurice Mills shouldn’t be welcomed to preside over such ceremonies without withdrawing their prejudicial comments nor should the Head of Civil Service be allowed to go unchallenged after stating that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is a lifestyle choice.

28 January 2009

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Realisation of a dream?

On the eve of Barack Obama's Inauguration as President of the United States of America and, coincidentally, on Martin Luther King Jnr Day I have reviewed the words of MLK and cannot find any more relevant words to summarise how momentous Obama's Inauguration is.

Tuesday 20 January 2009 will go down in history as a defining moment in American history when a new era commenced and old chapters were closed.

Whilst a lot of work still needs to be done to fully realise MLK's dream, the Inauguration of Obama proves to me that some dreams do partially come true when you recall Martin Luther King's comment that;


"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'



The battle ahead is to ensure that everyone enjoys true equality including minorities such as lesbian, gay and bisexual people who still experience marginalisation and blatant discrimination across the USA in 2009, 45 years after MLK's "I have a dream" speech

Monday 19 January 2009