Muir comments on latest problems with Ulster Unionist and Conservative Party ‘marriage’

Within the last week the Ulster Unionist Party have lost both their only MP and North Down MLA Alan McFarland due to the Ulster Unionist and Conservative Party ‘marriage’. With the Conservative Party the deceptively attractive Bride and the Ulster Unionist Party an ageing Groom it seems like that many of the Groom’s family members object to the marriage and don’t intend to be associated with this sham marriage. I imagine Lady Hermon and Alan McFarland will be much happier now that they are clearly disassociated from the marriage and the negative and contradictory approaches adopted by the Bride and Groom in recent times.

An example of the negative and contradictory approaches recently adopted by the Bride and Groom has recently arisen with regards to the recent vote at the NI Assembly on whether to devolve Policing and Justice powers back to Northern Ireland. The majority of Assembly members voted in favour of devolution.  David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, welcomed the move after previously encouraging Assembly members to vote in favour of devolution with Conservative Party MPs subsequently ratifying the move in the House of Commons a few weeks later.

The Ulster Unionist Party unfortunately took a different approach and instead decided to vote against the devolution of Policing and Justice powers. The UUP have citied the inability of the DUP and Sinn Fein to agree on controversial issues such as Post Primary Transfer as the main justification for their decision to vote ‘No’. This justification lacks credibility since during the negotiations at Hillsborough significant time was devoted to devising a means to address difficult and controversial issues.   The Alliance Party, along with other parties, engaged in these negotiations; but instead of positively engaging, the Ulster Unionist Party stayed away for most of time, preferring to moan and whinge on the sidelines.  It is deeply regrettable that the Ulster Unionist Party has decided to put narrow party political interests first. The Ulster Unionists clearly have not learnt anything from the recent expenses scandals at Westminster and Stormont. The people of Northern Ireland want politicians who put the people first, the party second and themselves last; rather than themselves first, the party second and the people last.

The Ulster Unionist and Conservative Parties recently announced that the people of North Down will be given an opportunity to decide whether they support the negative approach recently adopted by the Ulster Unionist Party and vote for a combined Candidate representing the Ulster Unionist and Conservative Parties. Ian Parsley has been announced as the candidate and I wish him well.

When Ian defected from the Alliance Party to the Conservative Party I expected he would show complete loyalty to his new Party and it’s leader, David Cameron.    Anyone who changes party allegiance, as I can attest, really  should be aware of how important it is to reassure their new party and the electorate that they have fully thought through their move and are 100% committed to their new party, its policies and its leadership.

I was therefore rather shocked to discover that Ian has adopted and continues to defend a position which clearly contradicts the opinion expressed by his Party Leader and the political party he now belongs to. 

Ian is currently defending the Ulster Unionist Party position against the devolution of Policing and Justice despite the fact that his Party Leader supports devolution and Conservative Party MPs recently voted en masse in favour of the move.

After the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Northern Ireland affairs, Alistair Carmichael, exposed the contradictory nature of Ian’s position, Mr Parsley has responded with an outlandish and ridiculous allegation that the Liberal Democrats are ‘not Liberal, and scarcely Democratic’. This bizarre response is difficult to understand but probably shows that Ian is rattled because yet more inconsistencies have been exposed in relation to the UUP / Tory link-up. As Vice-Chairperson of the Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland I can confidently state that the Liberal Democrats are extremely democratic and firmly committed to Liberal values. Unlike the Conservative Party, The Liberal Democrats have consistently argued for Proportional Representation. As Liberals we support freedom and equality, unlike the Conservative Party who want to actively discriminate against unmarried couples and have a long track record of castigating minorities.

Ian’s recent statements highlight yet again that the Ulster Unionist Party/Tory link-up is a shambolic marriage full of inconsistencies.

Ian says he wants a Shared Future but yet is allied to a party which includes people such as Adrian Watson who wants to stand for the Conservative and Ulster Unionist Parties in South Antrim despite previous calling Travellers “scumbags” and “scum of the earth” and stating that he would not allow a gay couple stay in his Guest House. Ian is also allied with a Party which includes Strangford MLA David McNarry who previously objected to the screening of GAA matches by the BBC. 

Only the Alliance Party is totally committed to delivering a Shared Future. The Alliance Party is not about the sectarian and discriminatory politics of the past but rather about rebuilding the economy, protecting the environment, tackling division, rejecting bigotry and ensuring Northern Ireland is a place which welcomes everyone, regardless of whether they are Catholic or Protestant, Unionist or Nationalist, Black or White, Straight or Gay, a settled resident or a traveller.

Whilst the Ulster Unionist and Conservative Party link-up may look new, it is, in reality, all about the politics of the past.    Whilst the Ulster Unionist and Conservative Parties provide lip-service to ideas of change and inclusivity;  the Alliance Party continues to work hard for real change that benefits everyone, built upon a Shared Future with strong, positive and consistent leadership.

31 March 2010

Traffic chaos in Bangor

Road works are currently taking place across Bangor. Today, Tuesday 23 March 2010, the Bryansburn Road is closed due to road works. The Rathgael Road is also closed due to road works, the road through Crawfordsburn village is partially closed and off-peak road closures are in place on Bloomfield Road South.

We now have so many diversion signs across Bangor that I am afraid of following them and being stuck in a loop.

I find it incredible that these road closures have all been organised at the same time, causing significant inconvenience for people living and working in Bangor with long traffic tail-backs across the Town. This lack of co-ordination is a disgrace. The impact of the road works is currently categorised by the Roads Service as “Moderate”.   If long tail-backs stretching out of Bangor towards Ballyrobert are “Moderate”, what then is “Severe”?

Could it be that some of the road works are taking place, not when the volume of traffic is at its lowest, but rather to ensure money is spent before the end of the Financial Year?

I understand the work taking place on the Rathgael Road is being undertaken by the Roads Service, while work on the Bryansburn Road, which has necessitated a road closure, is the responsibility of NI Water. 

Surely the Roads Service, which has overall control, could have organised some co-ordination between both public bodies to ensure the road works didn’t take place at the same time?

Regardless as to why the situation has occurred, an apology is due from the Roads Service and a commitment that a similar situation will never be allowed to happen again.

23 March 2010

Muir welcomes planned work at Castle Park Arboretum

A local resident recently contacted me about the labels on the wide range of trees within Castle Park, Bangor. This resident informed me that a number of trees within Castle Park Arboretum no longer have any labels. I was disappointed to learn about this development as someone who enjoyed a Tour of Castle Park in 2008 and, with my partner, eagerly visits arboretums across Ireland such as the National Arboretum within Annesley Gardens, Castlewellan and the Arboretum at the National Botanical Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin.

Castle Park Arboretum was purchased by Bangor Borough Council in 1941 from the Ward Family and contains a wide range of trees including mature conifers and deciduous trees. It is also adjacent to the recently refurbished Bangor Castle Walled Garden which dates back to the 1840s. After contacting North Down Borough Council it is apparent that they intend to renew the labelling from Summer 2010 onwards working alongside interested parties and volunteers. I also understand that North Down Borough Council intend use the labelling exercise to create a more accurate inventory of the arboretum.

I warmly welcome the news that North Down Borough Council intend to undertake this programme of work. Often the best Tourist attractions are on our own doorstep. The work to be undertaken by North Down Borough Council will make visits to the Arboretum more attractive and improve another jewel in North Down’s crown for everyone to enjoy.

18 March 2010

Odour problems at Kinnegar Sewage Plant

Using Environmental legislation, I have recently uncovered a appalling history of problems at Kinnegar Waste Water Treatment Works, Holywood, with over 70 odour emission incidents during 2009.

Kinnegar Sewage Plant is operated under contract by a Third Party Supplier on behalf of NI Water.  My request to NI Water sought to establish when the contract for the plant has been broken in relation to Odour Emission Limits.   NI Water has provided me with information under Environmental Legislation stating when Odour Emission Standards have fallen below a set standard and NI Water has penalised the contractor operating the plant by reducing the amount of money payable by NI Water.

The information provided details a systemic problem in relation to Odour Emissions from the Sewage Plant peaking during the summer. During 2009 serious odour problems occurred at the plant on no fewer than 74 occasions during 63 days. The months of July, August and September were particularly bad with over 50 odour emission incidents.

I accept that Waste Water needs to be processed and properly treated before being safely released into the sea but this must be done in a manner which does not harm the local environment or adversely impact on the daily lives to the local community.

Many people live and work near to Kinnegar Waste Water Treatment Works, and many more pass the plant by car or train, when commuting between North Down and Belfast. To repeatedly expose people, especially the residents of the area and those who work there daily, to disgusting sewage odours on such a regular basis is totally unacceptable and a complete disgrace.

During the last year I tolerated the odours when travelling by train past the plant but a few weeks ago I decided to investigate the cause and am shocked that this problem has been allowed to exist for such a long period of time with no resolution.

Local Kinnegar residents have expressed concerns for many years in relation to the sewage plant. The recent disclosures from NI Water prove that these concerns are entirely justified and warrant immediate action. It is entirely unacceptable that people living, working or even travelling past the sewage plant should have to tolerate such a stink.  Once in a blue moon might be explainable, but problems on over sixty days in a year is totally unacceptable.

Information such as the data I have recently obtained after submission of a formal request should not remain within NI Water but should instead by published on a regular basis on the internet in a spirit of transparency and openness. I therefore call upon NI Water to start publishing data concerning Odour Emission Incidents at Kinnegar Sewage Plant on their website at the end of each month.

I am currently arranging a meeting with NI Water to discuss the information recently supplied and my serious concerns in relation to the impact the Sewage Plant is having on the local environment, residents, workers and commuters. I have also asked NI Water to disclose how heavily the contractor operating Kinnegar Sewage Plant has been penalised by requesting the total amount that was deducted from the monthly payments due to the Contractor as a result of the Odour Emission Incidents during 2009.

In the meantime I publicly call upon Conor Murphy, Minister for Regional Development, to take immediate action to rectify this problem and ensure people can enjoy a proper quality of life and a decent working environment in the area around Kinnegar without such foul smells on a regular basis.

Note: NI Water state that, in relation to the Odour Emission incidents,  “the failure of contracted odour standards on any given day is not strictly a material breach, but rather entitles NI Water to make Performance Deductions, at contracted levels, for the lower standards of service provided on the day. These deductions range from 10% to 100% of the full value of the monthly payment due to the Contractor for wastewater services rendered, depending on the frequency of the events.”

4 March 2010