X Factor Era

The last Leaders Debate will occur tonight involving Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron.

Whilst the election isn’t yet over it is apparent that the Leaders Debates have had a significant impact on the election. 

Twenty four hour coverage of the election via the internet and news channels such as Sky News are feeding the appetite of the electorate who increasingly want to be able to easily review the options available with the minimum amount of superfluous information.

The electorate are able to generate content and influence discussions using new media such as Twitter and Facebook rather than merely being fed information from politicians. Voters can now increasingly shape and influence matters themselves. 

We are now living in what I define as the ‘X Factor Era’ where the people are now increasingly empowered. The arrival of the Leaders Debates is, I believe, a welcome development which is helping to reconnect people with politics. Much more work is however required to reconnect people and politics.  General Election turnout levels will help define the scale of the challenge ahead.

29 April 2010

Muir responds to concerns about door to door clothing collections

Over the last few weeks a number of people have contacted me with concerns in relation to the labels received through the letter-box requesting the donation of old clothing, bed linen, etc. The residents have been keen to support the causes detailed on the labels but since they are not commonly-known charities they are reluctant to donate their items incase it is a scam being perpetrated by commercial organisations to raise income for their own gain.

In response to the concerns raised I have conducted some research and it appears that door-to-door collections seeking items such as old clothes are undertaken by a variety of organisations. Collections have been taking place since the late 1990s with some collections undertaken by legitimate charities whilst others are undertaken by commercial companies on behalf of charities. The commercial organisation then takes a slice of the profits made from the sale of the goods donated.

Unfortunately, however, some commercial organisations also undertake the collections for their own gain without any money going to a legitimate charity. It is estimated that commercial organisations make up to £10 million a year using door-to-door collections for old clothing, etc.

Keen to clarify the situation I have made enquiries and it is apparent that the legal position with regards to the collections is complicated. It appears that the police do not issue permits for clothing collections, they only issue permits for monetary charity collections on the street. The police advise that if anyone has any suspicions they should not leave collection bags out for collection and report any suspicious behaviour directly to the police via 0845 600 8000.

Whilst the police advice is useful it is often hard to pick out the legitimate from the bogus collections. Members of the public are therefore rightly reluctant to report any suspect cases to the police, fearful they may be reporting a legitimate charity.

Action clearly needs to be taken to ensure bogus collections by commercial organisations purely for their own gain are promptly stopped.

Although not enacted yet, legislation has been passed in England enabling a licensing regime for charitable collections of old clothing, etc. Similar legislation would obviously be beneficial in Northern Ireland.   The planned introduction of a Charity Commission for Northern Ireland will hopefully provide an easy means for people to look up whether charities organising the collections are legitimate. Whilst legislation has been passed to enable the establishment of a Charity Commission and senior staff have been recruited, all charities will not be registered until 2011.

Until then I would encourage anyone who has concerns in relation to the legitimacy of a door-to-door collection for items such as old clothing to instead bring their items to a local Charity shop or use the textile recycling points provided by local Councils.

27 April 2010

Muir condemns Newtownhamilton Car Bomb on 22 April

As Alliance Party Election Candidate for Newry and Armagh I condemn the car bomb which exploded in Newtownhamilton at approximately 11.30pm on Thursday 22 April 2010.

Reports from the area indicate that the bomb exploded at approximately 11.30pm after the sound of automatic gunfire a short while beforehand. I have been informed that at least one person has been injured and that buildings have been damaged in the area as a result of this disgraceful terrorist attack.

Initial indications are that this is yet another attempt by Dissident Republicans to drag Northern Ireland back into the past. Northern Ireland has moved on since the Troubles. The vast overwhelming majority of people across Northern Ireland and Newry and Armagh want to live their lives in peace and are worried about ‘bread and butter’ issues rather than about fighting an old war.

I agree with the Chief Constable when he recently stated "when I go to the graduation ceremonies of new recruits, many of whom are Catholic young people doing a fantastic job, they are not joining the PSNI to be part of a British war machine, they are joining to be the impartial guardians of your family and your young people's future.”

I hope that none of the injuries are life threatening and that everyone makes a speedy recovery. Yet again local people will have to pick up the pieces as a result of the actions by a few people who offer nothing but destruction and misery.

I join with the vast majority of people across Northern Ireland who will today be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Police and the people of Newtownhamilton. Together we can defeat the men of violence by building a United Community based upon a Shared Future.

23 April 2010

Muir welcomes reversal of Cider tax rise

As Alliance Party candidate in Newry and Armagh for the forthcoming Westminster Election, I welcome news that the Cider tax increase will be reversed.

Whilst the 10% tax rise contained within Alistair Darling's Budget started from the end of March 2010 negotiations between the political parties at Westminster before Parliament was dissolved have resulted in a reversal of the tax rise from 30 June 2010. The Chancellor decided to increase the tax in an effort to  stop the abuse of high-strength alcoholic drinks.

Alistair Darling's decision to hike up the tax on Cider was a short sighted decision to try and raise as much money as possible to plug the massive hole in the UK's Finances. The Chancellor's justification for the tax increase rings hollow since the main impact of the tax increase is to punish everyday cider drinkers and the businesses which supply the massive amount of apples required each year to create the high quality cider brands available in most pubs and off licences. The government should instead focus on the causes of alcoholism and, if required, specifically target high-strength alcoholic drinks rather than adopt a scatter gun approach and punish everyone.

The decision to reverse the tax rise is however only a temporary reprieve since the Labour Government intend to reintroduce the rise if elected on 6 May 2010. If elected on 6 May I will work hard to ensure that the tax rise is permanently abandoned and ensure the Orchards across County Armagh are allowed to grow and blossom unhindered by such ill thought out tax rises.

22 April 2010

Muir continues battle against Kinnegar Sewage smell

I have been continuing my battle against the odour problem in the vicinity of Kinnegar Waste Water Treatment Works. I used Environmental Legislation in February to discover that over 70 odour emission incidents occurred at Kinnegar Sewage Plant during 2009. I then continued my battle by asking NI Water to disclose how heavily the contractor operating the Sewage Plant has been penalised for the Odour Emission incidents.

In early March I asked NI Water to disclose the total amount that was deducted from the monthly payments due to the Contractor as a result of the Odour Emission Incidents. Weeks later NI Water managed to send me a detailed verbose reply which in essence denied my request for this vital information.

In order to progress matters I convened a meeting with Senior Management from NI Water on Friday 16 April 2010. During the hour-long meeting, which was also attended by a local Kinnegar resident, the Director of Engineering and Procurement provided us with a detailed briefing concerning the design of Kinnegar Waste Water Treatment Works and how it compares to other facilities such as North Down Ards Wastewater Treatment Works located on the High Bangor Road, Donaghadee. 

We were informed that the Kinnegar Plant was built in the 1970s and was upgraded in early 2000s by Coastal Clear Water as a PFI project whereas the Donaghadee Plant is brand new and enclosed. We asked why the Donaghadee Plant is enclosed whereas the Kinnegar Plant is largely open. In reply the Director of Engineering and Procurement told us that whilst odour problems are largely eliminated if the sewage plant is enclosed it is very expensive and, as a result, the Kinnegar plant is not enclosed. 

During our comprehensive briefing I was surprised, but relieved, to learn that the Kinnegar Plant is operating below capacity and can easily accommodate more Waste Water from it’s catchment area which includes a significant part of East Belfast plus Holywood. 

After receiving our briefing I sought to establish what NI Water have been doing to fix the ongoing odour problem.

NI Water informed me that they have been trying to find the source of the odour problem since February 2009. We were told that NI Water hope to conclude their investigations in the next two or three months but think they have found the cause.  Whilst investigations are being concluded, plans are being put together to fix the probable cause. I was relieved to learn that they may have found a possible solution but requested regular updates and a follow up meeting to ensure the matter is swiftly resolved within the next few months. A solution is well overdue. 

Towards the end of the meeting I addressed NI Water's decision to withhold information concerning how heavily the contractor operating the Sewage Plant has been penalised for the Odour Emission incidents.  The response denying my information request stated that  NI Water and the Contractor are currently engaged in an arbitration process concerning the Odour Emission incidents. In light of the fact that NI Water hope to conclude their investigations within the next few months some light can be seen at the end of the tunnel with NI Water stating ‘NI Water is, however, minded of the fact that the information may be considered for release in the future should disputed monetary deductions be agreed and investigations completed.' I therefore intend to resubmit my request for information in August 2010 and will hopefully be able to discover how much the contractor has been penalised for the Odour Emission incidents.

People living, working or travelling past Kinnegar Sewage Plant should not have to experience the foul smells which have unfortunately been coming from near the plant for far too long. I am determined that NI Water finally resolve this matter and people be allowed to enjoy the sweet smells of summer rather than the frequent stinks they have been forced to endure.

21 April 2010

Muir speaks out against Circuses which include live animals or politicians

A few days before European Circus Day my attention has focused on the two circuses currently in the Newry and Armagh area.

Duffy's Circus has recently arrived at Frank Curran Park, Newry. I understand that Duffy's Circus involves a variety of animals including tigers, crocodiles, dogs, snakes and horses. An investigation is 2006 reported that the animals are held in pens and are restricted from making the movements animals can regularly make when living in the wild.

Circus animals experience an appalling life, forced to travel around the country in confined conditions, often chained up with little exercise or enrichment. Many countries have moved to prohibit circuses with live animals but unfortunately they remain legal in Northern Ireland and appear in most towns on a regular basis.

Circuses do not need live animals to be fun. Circus animals are often forced to perform acts which are uncomfortable and sometimes painful. I am therefore calling for an end to the circus at Frank Curran Park. Animals should not be forced to live in such conditions and perform acts merely for the enjoyment of others.

I also understand that Duffy's plan to hold a Parade through Newry City Centre on Saturday 17 April 2010 to celebrate European Circus Day with a special performance held afterward in Frank Curran Park. I sincerely hope this parade will not involve walking some of the circus animals through the street in light of previous accidents when animals have wandered away from the path of the parade towards spectators. I intend to boycott the parade and the special performance and have rejected the offer of one hundred free tickets to attend the show.

My attention is also focused on the other circus in the area. Some may have noticed that the traditional circus of Orange and Green politics has yet again arrived in the Newry and Armagh area with political parties promoting their Nationalist or Unionist credentials in advance of the Westminster Election on 6 May 2010. All the main political parties in Newry and Armagh want inside the big tent at Westminster but, unfortunately, there is only one seat available.

The Ulster Unionists are increasingly behaving like a bunch of clowns when they claim that their link-up with the Conservative Party will bring a new era of progressive politics. Whilst the Ulster Unionist's are now trading under a different brand new logos and slogans can't hide the fact they have agreed a sectarian pact with the DUP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Whilst their new political masters support the devolution of Policing and Justice the UUP can't make their minds up whether they are in favour of the devolution of Policing and Justice, voting against devolution and then nominating local MLA Danny Kennedy for the position of Justice Minister when the opportunity arose on Monday.

While the UUP are clowning around, the DUP and Sinn Fein are trying to perform some magic, attempting to create an illusion by claiming a positive record in government at Stormont when in fact the two parties have consistently failed to deliver with Post Primary Transfer thrown into chaos without any practical replacement to the 11+ and the process of Local Government Reform still uncertain a year away from the next Council elections.

With the Ulster Unionists, DUP and Sinn Fein performing their acts the SDLP have been moving the scenery around with a new leader in the hope that it will make their performance more attractive when in fact it's just the same old act with a new ringmaster.

Whilst other parties remain obsessed with proving their Nationalist or Unionist credentials the Alliance Party is firmly focused working for the people, building a Shared Future, building a knowledge based economy, protecting the environment whilst also delivering safer and more healthy communities.

For far too long the people of Northern Ireland have been forced by the tribal parties to walk a trapeze wire, regularly witnessing stunts and always scared that Northern Ireland will be pushed off the trapeze wire by a party more interested in their own audience rather than everyone across the North.

On 6 May voters have the opportunity across Northern Ireland to vote for a star performance. A vote for Alliance on 6 May 2010 is a vote for a Shared Future and to end Punch and Judy politics.

15 April 2010

Declarations of Interests

As the Alliance Party candidate in Newry and Armagh for the forthcoming Westminster Election I am well aware of the need to clean up politics.

In order to promote a spirit of transparency I have decided to publish my responses to the Declaration of Interest questions posed by the Department of Justice;

Q1: Do you hold any paid jobs or other forms of paid employment?

Assistant  Ticketing Systems Manager, Translink – Full time paid employment

Independent Member of North Down District Policing Partnership – Remunerated Public Appointment

Q2: Do you hold any positions of responsibility in an organisation?

Chairperson of The Alliance Party for NI's North Down Association Executive Committee www.allianceparty.org

Member of The Alliance Party for NI’s Executive Committee  www.allianceparty.org

Independent Member of North Down District Policing Partnership www.districtpolicing.com

Vice Chair of Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland Local Party www.libdems.org.uk

Gay and Lesbian across Down Management Committee member www.gladni.org

Member of Friends of the Earth North Down and Ards Group www.foe.co.uk

Member of Amnesty International North Down Group www.amnesty.org

Q3: Do you hold any paid or unpaid directorships?

Independent Member of North Down District Policing Partnership www.districtpolicing.com

Q4: Do you provide services to any clients in the course of your paid employment or

Work with Northern Ireland’s Public Transport provider as Assistant Ticketing Systems Manager, Translink

Q5: Apart from property occupied by you and your family, do you own any other land or



Q6: Do you hold any qualifying shareholdings?


Q7: In the most recent full tax year (i.e. tax year 2008/09) have you claimed to be, or

been treated as, not resident, not ordinarily resident or non-domiciled in the UK for tax


Q8: Do you hold any other interests which you think should be publicly declared?


Muir condemns Newtownhamilton car bomb

Early this morning I learned that a suspect car had been left outside the Police Station in Newtownhamilton. The car was left on Shambles Lane near the police station at around 02:00. Up to 60 families were evacuated from the area.

Later this evening it has transpired that a bomb was left inside the car consisting of a number of containers filled with flammable liquid. Thankfully no one has been injured with residents near the car bomb now being allowed to return to their homes after being woken in the night and kept away from their homes for most of the day.

I utterly condemn those that left this car bomb near the police station, their only intention is to cause death, injury and disruption. This is a worrying development given the car bomb that exploded on Sunday night at Palace Barracks, Holywood.

The public do not want this small minority to drag us back to the dark days when there were threats on a daily basis across the country. They have next to no support and I hope the community unites to call on them to stop.

Anybody with any information about this incident should contact the police. We must show these people that their campaign will not be successful.

13 April 2010

Delicious apples from Loughgall, Muir offers a positive alternative to the politics of the past

I spent most of today meeting up with Alliance supporters in Newry City and across County Armagh. The weather was glorious and I was given an extremely warm welcome by all the people I met. Both old and young, they were all passionate about the Alliance Party and pleased that they will have the opportunity to vote for an Alliance Party candidate on 6 May 2010. I also met a fellow Liberal Democrat who was glad that he will be able to support another Lib Dem in his Constituency.

During my tour around the Constituency I was struck by the vibrancy of Newry and Armagh Cities and the fantastic countryside around the Orchard County. The people I met were very determined that Newry and Armagh needs a full time MP who will work at Westminister to sustain the economic recovery and drive forward the battle to create a Shared Future. I intend to allow people to vote for this vision, providing a positive alternative to the politics of the past.

As a result of my visit I also managed to pick up some great apples picked close to Loughgall. I am looking forward to using these Apples to make a sweet and delicious Apple Pie which I can share with others as a great example of the many fantastic things County Armagh offers.

9 April 2010

Alliance selects Andrew Muir for Newry and Armagh

I can proudly announce that I have been selected to stand for The Alliance Party in Newry and Armagh in the upcoming general election on Thursday 6th May 2010.

A vote for me is a vote for a Shared Future. Only the Alliance Party is totally committed in word and deed to delivering a Shared Future.

The Alliance Party is not about the sectarian and discriminatory politics of the past but rather about tackling division and building a new Northern Ireland based upon a Shared Future.

With the costs of division reinvested into creating a vibrant knowledge based economy, Alliance will protect the environment and create jobs through a “Green New Deal” whilst also delivering safer and more healthy communities.

Alliance is the only party that offers the public a chance to vote for a better society for all.


Andrew graduated from the University of Ulster Magee Campus in Derry / Londonderry in 1999 after studying Peace and Conflict Studies and now serves as Chairperson of the Alliance Party’s North Down Association. Andrew is also an Independent Member of North Down District Policing Partnership and Vice Chair of the Liberal Democrat’s Northern Ireland Branch.

Andrew is active within the Community and Voluntary Sector and is involved with a variety of organisations including Friends of the Earth and Amnesty International.

A keen athlete, Andrew regularly participates in competitive road races across Ireland and is looking forward to his next race which will be Armagh 10k run on Sunday 18 April 2010.

Friday 9 April 2010