A Shared History, A Shared Future - Brian Cowan speaks about future commemorative events

An Taoiseach, Brian Cowan TD today spoke at UCD about future commemorative events which will take place in Ireland over the forthcoming years. Many centenaries will soon be remembered such as the Battle of the Somme and the Easter Rising.

I entirely agree with the aspirations set out within An Taoiseach's speech. The future commemorative events should be used as an opportunity to celebrate diversity, listen to everyone's stories and build a stronger Ireland based upon a Shared Future founded on a Shared Past.

As Brian Cowan states "mutual respect should be central to all commemorative events and that historical accuracy should be paramount."

Future commemorative events such as those for the Easter Rising, the Battle of the Somme and the Ulster Covenant should be seen as a great opportunity rather than any sort of threat.

Far too often we focus on what divides us rather than what unites us. For me, the border is merely a line on a map. Whether we are in Dublin or Dungannon, Bangor or Balbriggan, we have much more in common than what divides us.

As Brian Cowan states;

"There are huge challenges ahead – including how to tackle enormous economic difficulties and how to eradicate sectarianism and division. We must work together to meet these challenges.We cannot afford not to.

As we look ahead we can expect further change. Change is nothing to fear.  In fact, there is so much to look forward to if we are prepared to seize the future. "

An Taoiseach's speech can be found at http://bit.ly/9McWCd

20 May 2010

Election Deposits - government earns over half million pounds from democracy

In Westminster Elections you have to pay a £500 deposit if you want to stand as a candidate. The deposit is only refunded if the number of votes cast for you is 5% or more.

I lost my deposit as the Alliance Party candidate in Newry and Armagh since I polled 1.2% of votes in the recent election. This is feel is perfectly legitimate after polling only 1.2% of votes, albeit nearly double the amount of votes previously cast when Alliance last contested an election in the area.

The last Government previously considered to reduce the percentage from 5% to 2% in an effort to ensure smaller parties and Independents are not unfairly disadvantaged from the 5% threshold.

Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg today announced some of the proposals which aim to reform politics and restore the peoples faith in politics. When considering the issue of Electoral Reform I hope the new Coalition Government will again look at the proposal to reduce the threshold from 5% for Westminster Elections or perhaps reducing the amount from £500.

I do however however recognise that there are arguments against reducing the threshold to 2% or the amount from £500. When you stand as an election candidate you are entitled to send an Election Communication to every voter in the constituency free of charge via Royal Mail. Frivolous candidates could therefore abuse the system using the election and free postage facility to promote themselves or some frivolous cause.

Whilst these concerns should be borne in mind it should also be considered that smaller parties such as the Green Party and Alliance engaged in the democratic process and fielded candidates in many constituencies to give people the opportunity to exercise their democratic right and choose the party which best represents their views. The Green Party are now left with a hefty bill after engaging in the democratic process because they lost many deposits after fielding over 300 candidates across Great Britain.

In the 2005 General Election the government earned £693,000 from lost deposits. I hope the government will reconsider the matter again after the 2010 General Election to ensure they don't earn over half a million pounds from democracy.

19 May 2010

Lobbying Lessons to Learn

During the General Election campaign I was bombarded with emails, post and phonecalls from a variety of organisations lobbying me as Alliance Party candidate in Newry and Armagh.

Whilst I support the majority of causes my overwhelming impression is that companies and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that contacted me need to improve their Lobbying skills.

In one instance I received a cold call from a person requesting my address. Once they had received my address they promptly terminated the phonecall. A few days later I received a glossy brochure which told me lots about the organisation but failed to include a call to action. In response I promptly placed the brochure into my recycling bin.

Nearly everyday I received emails which have clearly been generated using Copy and Paste technology. Lengthy Adobe Acrobat PDFs were often attached providing tons of information about the cause the organisation wanted me to support. If organisations sending such emails believe that their recipients have the time to read the massive amount information sent they clearly don’t understand politics. During an election most candidates are extremely busy spreading their message amongst their electorate. Any spare time is often spent with partners, friends and family not reading volumes of information sent via email from an unknown individual into their Inbox.

I also received Surveys from organisations asking me my views in relation to a number of matters. I once received a questionnaire from the Union asking “Are you prepared to oppose all cuts in public expenditure and public services?”. I am really surprised that the Union asked such an ill thought out question. Any Election Candidate who answered yes was either living in cloud cuckoo land or didn’t take the election seriously. Cuts in public expenditure can never be ruled out. For example, did the Union want all Election Candidates to stand firmly against cutting the pay and bonuses awarded to fat cat bosses?!

I did however receive a number of short emails from constituents asking me to support a cause which they have a personal interest or association with. These emails were great way to for the electorate to engage with their candidate and vice versa. I got a real understanding of the issues in the constituency. It was also a good means to connect people with politics.

A few important lessons should be learnt by organisations as a result of the Election Campaign.

The first lesson to be learnt is that impersonal approaches are a waste of time. Organisations seeking in influence politicians should instead spend time developing genuine personal relationships with politicians on an ongoing basis.

The second lesson is that constituents should also be encouraged to make contact with their prospective and elected representatives, bringing the issues that matter directly to the politician.

With more effective lobbying an increased number of politicians will hopefully deliver for the people all year round rather than just when an election is on the horizon.

16 May 2010

Election Reflections

The General Election Campaign is now over. The votes have been counted and candidates have been elected across Northern Ireland and rest of the UK.

Whilst we take time to recharge our batteries following an energetic, positive and successful election campaign it is important we take time to reflect upon the election results.

As the Alliance Party candidate in Newry and Armagh I can proudly report that we nearly doubled the Alliance vote with 545 people voting for The Alliance Party compared to 274 when the Alliance Party last contested an election in the area (2007 Assembly Election). 

Across Northern Ireland many more people expressed their support for Alliance with strong performances in many constituencies. Our continued electoral success proves that more and more people want to move away from the old politics of orange and green and are keen to elect Alliance representatives dedicated to delivering a Shared Future.

Since the Alliance Party was formed in 1970 we have always aspired to be able to represent Northern Ireland’s interests at Westminister. In the early hours of Friday 7 May 2010 I was one of the few people at Ards Leisure Centre to witness history in the making.

Following years of hard work and an amazing election campaign Naomi Long was elected the Alliance MP for East Belfast. The Alliance Party is now represented at all levels of government, whether it be at Westminister, at the Executive with David Ford MLA as Justice Minister, at the NI Assembly or local Councils. The Alliance Party now has representatives everywhere working hard to deliver a real change for you.

After our election successes the battle for deliver a Shared Future continues apace. The Party will work hard over the next year to ensure continued success with Assembly and Council elections due to take place in May 2011.

The Alliance Party continues its onward quest to build a new Northern Ireland based upon a Shared Society where everyone is enabled to reach their best potential regardless of their background or status. 

10 May 2010

Thank you, yes we can!

At approximately 3.25am this morning the Election Result for Newry and Armagh was announced. 

The Sinn Fein candidate Conor Murphy was re-elected whilst I obtained 545 votes, nearly double the amount cast when Alliance last contested an election in the Newry & Armagh constituency in 2007.

This was my first election campaign and I can't wait to contest my next election! I found the General Election to be  very enjoyable and highly motivating experience.

During the last number of weeks I spent nearly every evening and weekend busy promoting the Alliance Party, passionately advocating the values and policies we stand for. Whilst I spent a lot of my time in North Down, whether it be in Newry and Armagh, North Down or East Belfast I heard a clear message over the last few weeks. People want change. Northern Ireland increasingly wants to move away from the tribal politics of division and towards a new Shared Future.

The ongoing growth of the Alliance Party is a positive beacon of hope in the midst of dissident Republican activity a yet more talk of "Unionist Unity".

Naomi Long's election as Alliance MP for East Belfast demonstrates that people want elected representatives that work hard for their electorate and have a strong vision for a new inclusive Northern Ireland based upon a Shared Society.

As the Alliance Party candidate in Newry and Armagh I particularly want to thank all those who voted for me plus those who supported my Nomination. I also want to thank my Election Agent Tom Barclay who has proven to be enormously helpful and a real source of inspiration. I am also grateful for the support offered by Alan, my partner, plus Alliance Party staff. Without the support of Alliance Party Headquarters Staff and my local MLA it would not have been possible for me to stand as a candidate in Newry and Armagh.

Plenty of people said we couldn't do it. They said that the Alliance Party was irrelevant. After the election of Naomi Long MP and with our vote growing across N Ireland the clear message from General Election 2010 is Yes we can!

7 May 2010


Today's General Election is an opportunity for people to shape the future.

As the Alliance Party candidate in Newry and Armagh I am seeking the support of everyone regardless of their background.

Unlike the old parties Alliance is strongly committed to moving away from the old politics of orange and green and towards a new Shared Future. 

We offer a positive vision for Northern Ireland where diversity is celebrated and division is tackled.

If elected I will put the Economy, the Environment and creation of Safe and Healthy communities at the top of my list of priorities.  

Far too many opportunities have been wasted due the politics of the past. 

Now is the time to create a new Shared Future.

Many people across the world yearn for the right to vote. Some have sacrificed their own lives as part of their battle for democracy.

If you haven't already, visit your local Polling Station and vote Alliance.

Yes we can!

6 May 2010

Muir states a vote for Alliance is a vote for a Shared Future and Jobs

In twenty four hours the polls will have closed and ballot boxes will be in transit to various locations to be verified and counted.

People across Newry and Armagh have an opportunity tomorrow to vote for an Alliance Candidate who is firmly committed to developing a Shared Future where diversity is celebrated and division tackled.

Examples from throughout the world show that where diversity is celebrated creativity abounds and the economy grows. We need a new society led by politicians who recognise this fact and are committed to tackling division rather than merely managing it.  

Whilst others are obsessed with the politics of Orange and Green, Northern Ireland remains divided and opportunities are being missed.

The costs of division in Northern Ireland are estimated to be approximately £1billion. Many opportunities could arise if we tackled division and reinvested the money saved to create jobs by delivering a Green New Deal. A vote for Alliance is a vote for a Shared Future and Jobs.

Over the last number of weeks I have been extremely impressed with the vibrant nature of Newry and Armagh cities plus the surrounding towns.  Whilst the Celtic Tiger may have been tamed Newry and Armagh is still roaring with passion and determination. The challenge ahead is to ensure ongoing sustainable economic growth whilst also protecting frontline public services and the environment. 

If elected I will fight to both protect and create jobs, working to ensure the area benefits from a “Green New Deal” for Northern Ireland. The “Green New Deal” proposed by Alliance would, if implemented, create many jobs whilst also safeguarding the environment. As Alliance Candidate in the forthcoming election I am also committed to protecting the area from the drastic funding cuts proposed by the Conservatives. 

Newry and Armagh is a fantastic area. From Slieve Gullion Forest Park to the Newry Canal and the Orchards across Armagh County it has some of the most amazing attractions and is a great area for people to enjoy. Whilst we work to grow our economy we must ensure our local environment is protected. 

If elected I will work to ensure the introduction of strong legislation to stop businesses and individuals from harming the environment. I will also work with MPs from the Liberal Democrats, our Sister Party, to ensure the British Government works hard to gain international agreement to tackle climate change before it is too late.

When meeting people from the Constituency the recent expenses scandals have often been raised. People are rightly annoyed that some MPs abused the electorates trust and feel disconnected from politics. 

As the Alliance Candidate I understand why people feel annoyed and disconnected but will work hard to ensure that action is taken if elected. MPs should be treated and act in exactly the same manner as other public servants, paid a decent wage but without special perks. 

The current “winner takes all” electoral system for Westminster Elections must be abolished. Everyone’s vote should count and a new fairer system introduced similar to the system used for Council and Assembly Elections in Northern Ireland. 

On Thursday 6 May the electorate in Newry and Armagh will have the opportunity to select who they want to represent them at Westminster. A vote for me is a vote for real change away from the politics of the past and towards a new Shared Future.

5 May 2010