Gay rights champion Jeff Dudgeon awarded MBE

News that Jeff Dudgeon has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours List for services to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community in Northern Ireland is extremely positive, significant and symbolic.

I feel a great sense of joy that Jeff will soon become a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). Whilst long overdue it’s a perfect end to 2011. Jeff will now be honoured by the state after previously facing criminalisation simply due to his sexual orientation.

Jeff courageously and successfully brought a case to European Court of Human Rights in 1981 and achieved decriminalisation of male homosexuality in Northern Ireland. Until the UK Government changed the law in 1982 (following Jeff’s successful case) gay men in Northern Ireland faced arrest, prosecution and imprisonment.

Muir welcomes imaginative approach on confiscated counterfeit goods

I welcome the approach adopted by the Trading Standards service in Northern Ireland to donate counterfeit goods to charity for redistribution to homeless and vulnerable people.

I recently sent an inquisitive query to Trading Standards seeking to ascertain what they do with all the fake and illegitimate goods they regularly confiscate. In response I was delighted to learn that a scheme is now in place where counterfeit goods such as clothing, footwear, food and nappies are given to charities via a designated organisation.

With counterfeit goods seemingly increasing and one market in England recently closed because more fake goods were being sold than legitimate products I welcome this imaginative approach which ensures those in need benefit from the goods rather than those who produce the dodgy items. 

Other public bodies who are in possession of confiscated goods and unclaimed lost property should explore similar opportunities to ensure that those in need benefit from the goods especially during the Christmas season of goodwill, when we should be focused on helping people pushed to the margins of society.

Alliance Councillors working to save historic Cultra Rail Station House

Sketching of Cultra Railway Station House
by Cllr Larry Thompson
My fellow Holywood Alliance Councillor Larry Thompson and I have been campaigning to save Cultra Station House. Contact has been made with the Minister for the Environment and a meeting held with top officials to work out a way to save the building. The Station House is located at Cultra Railway Halt and close to the entrance to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

Commenting on the issue, Cllr Thompson stated: “Cultra Station House was designed by renowned architect Charles Lanyon, built in circa 1863 and was listed in 2007 when threated with demolition. This unique building has long been on the Built Heritage at Risk Register and is now in a very bad state of repair with the exterior covered in graffiti, doors and windows broken and the roof partially exposed. Previous plans submitted by the site owner to refurbish the building never materialised. As a consequence of the general economic downturn the building now faces a very uncertain future with ownership recently transferred to NAMA who have since put the building up for sale on the open market seeking circa £450k.”

Muir welcomes £3.6m investment to stop pollution at Kinnegar lagoons, Holywood

Cllr Muir at Kinnegar Lagoons
I welcome news that NI Water have formally approved the Business Case authorising investment of £3.6million to address the on-going Kinnegar sewage pollution problem which has caused odours for years.

I have been campaigning for action to plug the sewage problem since early 2010 when I exposed the full extent of the problem and secured commitment by NI Water to spend £100,000 to identify the cause and then £3million investment to fix the problem.

Whilst sewage pollution has occurred for far too long at the Kinnegar Lagoons I am glad that progress to implement a solution is occurring after sustained lobbying by myself. This £3.6m initiative will hopefully eliminate the on-going smells which have made some nearby residents and workers nauseous and are often commented upon by people travelling past the location by car or train.

Muir pleased that North Down Council supports shared schooling

I welcome the decision by North Down Borough Council to support my motion expressing support for shared schooling.

Council ratified its decision to endorse my motion at its meeting on Tuesday 22 November 2011. The motion stated: “That this Council calls upon the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive to urgently deliver an education system fit for the 21st century by developing more shared educational opportunities, where children learn and play together.”

Alliance Councillors urge investment in Holywood schools

Cllr Muir meeting Priory Integrated College
Student Council 15 December 2010
My Council colleague Larry Thompson and I have called upon the Department of Education to fund the new school building projects within Holywood. We have made the call following news that monies have become free as a result of recent developments such as recent development regarding the A5 road upgrade and news that the Education Minister has found an extra £40m.

Cllr Thompson stated: “Whilst some new school build projects are not ready to proceed, the new schools initiative in Holywood has received all the necessary approvals and just needs the commitment and cash to proceed.  Priory Integrated College urgently needs a new building to replace their current crumbling structure.

Cyclists celebrate successful Yuletide Mince Pie Cycle Ride

Cyclists from across North Down enjoyed a leisurely cycle ride from Bangor to Holywood and then the RSPB Bird Reserve at Airport Road, Belfast as part of the Bicycle friendly Borough campaign on Sunday 20 November with campaigners hailing the event as an overwhelming success. 

Supported by Sustrans and Friends of the Earth the ride was designed to raise awareness of the need to fully upgrade the North Down Coastal Path to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians.

Commenting on the event, Mary Lappin from the Bicycle friendly Borough campaign remarked “Over sixty people participated in our Yuletide Seaside Birdhide Mince Pie Bikeride cycling along the North Down Coastal Path from McKee Clock to Holywood and then the Bird Reserve. We were particularly grateful for the MLAs and Councillors who joined us including John Barry and Andrew Muir plus the Mayor of North Down Cllr James McKerrow who gave his best wishes before we set off. 

The ride successfully helped us to highlight the need to upgrade the remaining sections of the Coastal Path whilst also demonstrating the value of investment made by North Down Borough Council and other agencies.”

Continuing, Mary stated “Cyclists found the newly upgraded section at Rockport very useful and were able to make their way to Airport Road via the newly opened gate facilitating cyclists and pedestrians between Kinnegar and the Harbour Estate. 

More work is however required to create a Greenway between Bangor and Belfast allowing pedestrians and cyclists alike to make their journey on a safe traffic free route. We therefore intend to request a meeting with Senior Officers at North Down Borough Council to find out more about their plans to upgrade the remaining sections”.

I greatly enjoyed the Mulled Wine and Mince Pies kindly provided on arrival at the Bird Hide by Bikeworks Cycle Shop, Bangor and will continue to support this important campaign in the future. We urgently need to upgrade our cycling infrastructure to make it easier and safer for cyclists to travel from A to B.

Anyone interested in supporting the Bicycle friendly Borough campaign and participating in future rides should join our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/bicyclefriendlyborough

Muir comments on Redburn Primary School closure decision delay

I welcome the decision by SEELB to defer their decision to issue proposals to close Redburn Primary School.

I understand South Eastern Education and Library Board Commissioners met last week to consider whether to issue proposals in the form of a Development Plan to close the school but decided to defer any decision until their next meeting. I welcome news that they are considering all relevant issues and hope they will make the right decision and will allow Redburn to remain open.

Any decision to close the school would be knee jerk in advance of the wide ranging review now initiated by the Education Minister and the long awaited new Schools initiative in Holywood which would involve new premises for Priory Integrated College, Holywood Nursery plus Redburn and Holywood Primary Schools.

Muir urges action to protect War Memorials

© Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse
under thisCreative Commons Licence
I have called upon North Down Borough Council to take appropriate actions to protect war memorials across the Borough following a reports of thefts in other parts of the UK.

Following recent reports from other parts of the UK that metal plaques on war memorials have been stolen to be sold, I have requested that Council officers bring back a report on all possible steps which can be taken to safeguard our war memorials. 

Plaques bearing the names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice during past wars need to be securely marked so they can be easily traced if stolen, and photographed to allow replicas to be reproduced without delay.

I find it disgusting and abhorrent that anyone would even consider doing something like this. I am appalled at the lack of respect displayed by some people for those who lost their lives, and I cannot understand how some individuals do not appreciation that the freedom they enjoy today is because of the sacrifices made by those named on the plaques. 

Hopefully North Down will not be visited by such criminals but if we are, we must be prepared.

Muir condemns plans to close Holywood Police station

Holywood Police Station

I condemn outright plans to close Holywood Police Station and urge the Chief Constable to remove Holywood from the list of stations which will be axed. 

It is understood that a Policing Board subcommittee was presented with a list of 35 stations ear marked for closure on at the end of last week by the Police Service of NI and included on this list was Holywood Police Station.

Holywood Police Station is an important part of our community providing a base for local police officers. With the recent spike in burglaries I am astounded that the Police are considering removing this local station. 

Cyclists plan Mince Pie Cycle Ride to Belfast Lough Bird Reserve

North Down Cyclists hope to put the wheels in motion towards an improved Coastal Path later this month by embarking upon a Cycle Ride from Bangor and Holywood to the Belfast Lough Bird Reserve at Airport Road, Belfast. Participants will be able to enjoy free coffee and mince pies upon arrival courtesy of Bikeworks Cycle Shop.

Organised by the Bicycle friendly Borough campaign and supported by Sustrans and Friends of the Earth the cycle ride will depart McKee Clock, Bangor at 10am and Café Nero, Holywood at noon on Sunday 20 November 2011 arriving at the Bird Reserve at approximately 12.30pm.

Muir welcomes pavement gritting deal

Cllr Muir in Holywood last year
during heavy snow and ice
Last year The County Down Spectator rightly described efforts by the Council and Roads Service to grit Town Centre pavements as ‘too little too late’. Town Centre pavements were left covered in snow and ice in a treacherous state for far too long whilst the Council and Roads Service bickered. 

I am however glad that the Council and Roads Service have signed an agreement concerning gritting and removal of ice from Town Centre pavements after I continuously raised the issue throughout 2011. 

The new agreement will hopefully provide a framework for action. Whilst it will not be possible to grit every pavement after every sprinkling of snow it provides a basis for a more co-ordinated approach focused on key areas during extreme and prolonged cold weather when snow and ice make Town Centre’s inaccessible. 

I will closely monitor implementation to ensure lessons are learnt from 2010 and ratepayers receive a better response from government when temperatures fall and snow turns to ice.

Muir welcomes Holywood success at Best Kept Town awards

I am delighted after Holywood was awarded Runner Up status in the Medium Town Category at the Northern Ireland Best Kept Town 2011 Awards.

Whilst I am naturally disappointed Holywood didn't win this year achieving Runner Up status against stiff competition is an amazing achievement. I warmly congratulate and thank everyone involved in keeping Holywood tidy and attractive.

Great progress has been achieved during the last year with a number of eye sores gone, areas spruced up, graffiti removed and the scourge of litter tackled on an on-going basis. The challenge ahead is to continue this work and focus on the areas where judges felt improvement was required in order to ensure we win the award next year.

I look forward to working with everyone over the forthcoming months to deliver a tidy town which attracts even more people to live, work or visit. During these tough economic times it's especially important we have a town which attracts investors.

Muir working to stop Redburn Primary School closure

People across Holywood recently received news that the South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB) are contemplating closing Redburn Primary School from 31 August 2012. I am shocked that the Board are even considering closure after the Education Minister recently reaffirmed commitments to facilitate the new school building project in Holywood when resources allow. This scheme would involve new premises for Holywood Nursery, Holywood Primary, Priory Integrated College and Redburn Primary with Redburn and Holywood Primary Schools merging together on one new site.

Whilst I am totally opposed the proposed closure I am keen to ensure that the consultation isn’t merely a rubber stamping exercise. I have therefore contacted the Children’s Commissioner requesting that legal action is taken to halt the closure before the Education Minister completes his overarching review concerning the sustainability of all schools across Northern Ireland.

Thompson welcomes progress to save Stewart's Place, Holywood

Holywood Alliance Councillor Larry Thompson has welcomed news that a letter of offer has been issued by the NI Environment Agency for Grant Aid towards essential repairs and redecoration of 1 Stewart’s Place, Holywood with work apparently to begin on site shortly. 1 Stewart’s Place was built in 1840 and is a listed building in the Town Centre on a street named after Holywood’s first Post Master.

Commenting on the development, Cllr Thompson stated “Over the last few years 1 Stewart’s Place has unfortunately fell into disrepair and is now extremely dilapidated. Emergency repairs effected a few months ago were merely cosmetic leaving the building in a serious state and structural damage now evident.

Whilst I am disappointed that the building has been allowed to deteriorate so badly news that funding has been awarded and work will soon commence to bring the building up to a basic standard is to be welcomed. I would like to pay tribute to the Holywood Conservation Group who have worked tirelessly to bring these matters to the attention of all concerned and to achieve a successful result".

Concluding, Cllr Thompson remarked “Whilst previous attempts by NIEA to force the site owner to repair the building have failed Grant Aid and news that the building is on the market for sale will hopefully incentivise the owner to carry out the necessary work. Facing 1 Stewart’s Place is its sister building 3 Stewart’s Pace which was restored in 1993 by Hearth Housing Association. This restored building provides a clear example of how 1 Stewart’s Place could look if fully restored. I will continue to lobby and support Holywood Conservation Group and UAHS as they campaign for action to restore this historic building which acts as a gateway into Holywood”.

Stewart's Place, Holywood is thought to have been built about 1840 by William Lowry, nos. 1 and 3 Stewart's Place are named after the first post-master of Holywood, Hugh Stewart. Forming a pair of three-storey stucco houses with rounded corners, they were listed in the mid-1970s, and are located within the recently designated Holywood Conservation Area. No.3 was restored by Hearth Revolving Fund in 1993, but, its neighbour, no.1, is currently in a poor state of repair. HB Ref No: HB23/20/020 A 

More info at http://freespace.virgin.net/hearth.nireland/StewartsPl.html Offers are invited in the region of £175,000 by BTW Shiells http://www.btwshiells.co.uk/Site/Property.aspx?x=1141

Muir comments on plan to dim street lights

Conscious that Local Authorities in Great Britain have started switching off street lights at night to save money I was keen to ascertain if the Roads Service also intend to flick the switch. 

I therefore raised a question at a recent Council meeting seeking to ascertain if they plan to copy their counterparts across the water and was informed that no plans exist to flick the switch in Northern Ireland.

I am glad that street lights will continue to shine at night with smart solutions to be pursued instead such as dimming the lights at dusk and dawn. Keeping areas well lit at night reduces the risk of accidents, helps cut crime and the fear of crime.

Smart solutions such as dimming lights at dusk and dawn when full beam isn’t necessary makes sense but leaving neighbourhoods in darkness could result in a crime wave. With burglaries on the rise we need to ensure nothing is done which makes it easier for criminals to operate such burglars.

Thompson and Muir delighted iconic Holywood Johnny the Jig statue saved

My fellow Alliance Holywood Councillor Larry Thompson and I are delighted following the recent decision by NI Environment Agency to abandon plans to de-list the iconic Johnny the Jig statue in Holywood, Co. Down.

Commenting on the development, Cllr Thompson stated “Following extensive lobbying by Cllr Muir and I, Holywood Conservation Group, North Down Borough Council, Historic Buildings Council, Ulster Architectural Heritage Trust and many concerned residents I am delighted that the NIEA has reconsidered their proposal and abandon plans to delist the statue. Without this protection the statue may have faced an uncertain future similar to other monuments across Northern Ireland which, over time, have either been destroyed or left to rot in storage warehouses.”

Concluding, Cllr Thompson stated “Johnny the Jig is an iconic statue by Rosamond Praeger, a well loved and respected local artist, which forms part of Holywood’s identity and will thankfully remain in place, protected in law. I would like to pay tribute to the Holywood Conservation Group for all their considerable work in helping to save Johnny the Jig from delisting."

Muir urges library cuts rethink after over £2m spent

I again call upon the Libraries Authority to abandon their plans to cut Holywood and Bangor Library Opening Hours after discovering that over £2m was spent upgrading Bangor Library and nearly £170,000 was spent last year refurbishing Holywood’s Historic library which previously served as Sullivan School.

Libraries NI recently announced plans to slash library opening hours across Northern Ireland. If plans proceed, Holywood Library opening hours will be cut from 53.5 to 40 and Bangor from 65 to 57 hours per week.

Muir calls for gritting arrangements to be sorted

Cllr Muir in Holywood with
ice covered pavements

North Down Borough Council and the Roads Service need to sort out arrangements for the gritting of town centre footpaths before the winter arrives.

Last year town centre pavements were treacherous and arguments continued concerning who was responsible for gritting them. Towards the end of the cold spell grit was spread by North Down Borough Council but this was widely viewed as too little and too late with businesses trade badly affected.

Earlier this year I raised the issue and again I am urging the Council and Roads Service to come to an arrangement which ensures that town centre pavements are gritted when snow and ice is experienced. We simply cannot afford to leave businesses inaccessible for days.

I will continue to raise this issue at Council meetings until a satisfactory solution is found.

Time for talks on the past

Tomorrow the Alliance Party will table a motion at the NI Assembly calling for the Secretary of State to convene all party talks to find a way to deal with the legacy of the past. More details can be found at this link.

The Assembly motion follows the recent call by Alliance Deputy Leader Naomi Long MP for the Secretary of State to convene all Party talks to broker agreement on how to deal with the legacy of the past. 

The appointment of Mary McArdle as Special Advisor, Martin McGuinness’s Irish Presidential Bid and the recent death of Gusty Spence have yet again highlighted the need to devise an inclusive means to deal with the past. 

Rather than ignoring the past, seeking to re-write history or leaving the issue with the Historical Enquiries Team, Police Ombudsman and special inquires we need to devise a comprehensive and inclusive way to address the needs of victims and survivors. 

Locally, the Alliance Party in North Down recently held a Talk and Discussion entitled concerning the past with Guest Speaker Lord Eames outlining key issues to be considered.

Alliance will continue to provide leadership on this important issue until an adequate means is found to address the legacy of the past since the Shared Future we all yearn for must be built upon stable foundations.

Muir calls for improvements at Glenlyon Park

Improvements are required at one of Holywood's most scenic parks located within a steep ravine.

Glenlyon Park can be found off the Church Road in Holywood and offers visitors the opportunity to watch wildlife and roam across eleven acres of parkland which incorporates the Twistle Burn River and a picnic area. The park is an ideal venue for short walks only a few minutes' walk from Holywood Town Centre with ample car parking available on site for those who wish to travel from further afield.

This scenic park has, unfortunately, fallen into slight disrepair with some items vandalised whilst rubbish has also accumulated and steps sometimes slippy. Local people have contacted me concerned that the park seems to have been forgotten about whilst another resident has also reported that anti-social behaviour has been taking place in the car park after dusk.

Muir calls for action to tackle abandoned advertising lorries

A coordinated government response is required to tackle problem concerning advertising lorries abandoned on bridges across main roads across Northern Ireland.
I have raised the issue as a result of on-going problem with many lorries abandoned on the Holywood Exchange Flyover on the A2 Bangor to Belfast Road advertising a range of items including Pony Rides, Electrical Goods, Furniture and grass cutting for many days.
Over the last few months I have been liaising with various government agencies to resolve this matter which has caused a significant number of complaints. Many motorists fear that the distractions could cause an accident and a disabled resident has contacted me unable to travel to Sainsbury's via her electric scooter as a result of lorries parked on the pavement.

Muir condemns cut in library opening hours

I have launched a petition at http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/stoplibrarycuts against the proposed drastic cut in opening hours at Holywood and other libraries. I am concerned that the cuts could mark the end for some libraries whilst also restricting access to these vital community resources.

Holywood Library
Libraries NI recently announced plans to cut the opening hours of many libraries across Northern Ireland. Locally, Holywood Library will suffer drastic cuts with opening Hours slashed from 53.5 hours to 40 hours. Bangor Library will also have its opening hours cut from 65 to 57 hours. Whilst I recognise that Libraries NI need to balance their budget making such cuts at the behest of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure could be the death knell of some libraries reducing visitors to an unsustainable level with the next logical step closure.

Help save a man from execution

In a few days a man will be executed. Unless action is taken Troy Davis will be killed by lethal injection on Wednesday 21 September 2011 at 7pm, US time.

Troy Davis was convicted of murder in 1991 and has been on death row for 20 years despite a raft of evidence highlighting his potential innocence and a strong campaign supported by Amnesty International calling for a new trial or hearing and clemency.

Killing another human being is, I believe, fundamentally wrong for many reasons including, most importantly, the reason cited by Martin Luther King Jnr. who once said that “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind”.

Two days before Troy is due to be executed Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles will hold a clemency hearing. This meeting will take place tomorrow and decide whether his execution should proceed or whether his sentence should be commuted.

His execution is therefore not inevitable. Take action now and contact the Board of Pardons and Paroles via www.amnesty.org.uk Let’s cherish and protect human life rather than extinguishing it.

Muir welcomes reprieve for Ballysallagh Reservoir

I welcome news from NI Water that planned sale of Ballysallagh Reservoirs have been put on hold. I have been lobbying NI Water to halt their plans to sell Reservoirs across North Down and beyond and serve on the joint North Down and Ards Council committee to Save Portavo Reservoir near Groomsport. I am also involved in the newly formed Portavo Preservation Group.

Whilst the main focus is currently on Portavo Reservoir which is scheduled for sale during 2012/13 I am keen to ensure that remaining redundant Reservoirs across North Down are not sold to the highest bidder. It is vitally important that these beauty spots and wildlife havens are retained and protected for future generations not lost to private developers who may drain the Reservoirs, or worse.

Muir details plan to plug Kinnegar sewage pollution problem

I have been reassured by NI Water that plans to plug the sewage pollution problem in Holywood are on track.

After extensive lobbying I was delighted to achieve a commitment last year from NI Water to spend up to £3m to tackle the on-going sewage pollution problem occurring in the Kinnegar lagoons, Holywood after previously spending £100k to identify the source of the problem.

I have continued to lobby NI Water officials and with the malodour especially bad during the Summer months recently convened a meeting with Senior NI Water officials to urge action.

King John's Highway Radio article

BBC Radio Ulster today covered ongoing blockage of King John's Highway Right of Way path, Creighton's Green Road, Holywood during their Good Morning Ulster programme. 

You can listen to the article again at http://audioboo.fm/boos/443332-king-johns-highway-radio-ulster-article-18-aug-2011

Muir comments ahead of Ward Park concerts

North Down Alliance Councillor Andrew Muir has expressed his hopes for 'warm weather, good music and cool heads' ahead of the Ward Park concerts which will take place in Bangor on Tuesday and Wednesday 23 and 24 August 2011.

With the concerts now only days away, I hope that the concerts will be characterised by warm weather, good music and cool heads. With popular artists playing at Ward Park such as The Script and Eminem the local economy is due to receive a significant boost.

Whilst the vast majority of people attending the concerts won't cause any bother whatsoever, anyone intent on causing trouble should be aware that anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated. I urge the police to take a strong and robust approach to ensure everyone can safely enjoy the events.

Official Opening of Contemporary Goldsmith's Studio, Holywood

Cllr Muir with Contemporary
Goldsmith Eddie Doherty
Last Friday I attended the Official Opening of Eddie J Doherty's Studio at The Old School, Church Road, Holywood. Eddie is a Contemporary Goldsmith specialising in handmade jewellery who previously worked within business known as Gold Diggers in Holywood Town Centre.

Eddie's studio is part of Holywood Old School, a historic listed building restored a few years ago and now under the ownership of Holywood Old School Preservation Trust.

The sustainable use of this building is a fantastic example of how listed buildings in disrepair can be given a new lease of life with the hall used for many purposes such as Scout meetings, Birthday parties and Community group meetings whilst also accommodating Eddie's studio and an Apartment.

Muir welcomes Reservoir legislation

I welcome news that the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development has commenced work concerning a new Reservoirs Bill to 'ensure reservoirs are managed and operated to minimise the risk of failure thereby protecting human life, the environment, cultural heritage and economic activity from flooding.'. 

The lack of regulatory legislation was something I previously raised during 2010 following an Assembly Question by Alliance MLA Dr Stephen Farry. This revealed that 104 private reservoirs exist which could impact upon 36,000 people if the dam burst.

Muir urges action to sort Town Centre parking problems

I urge the Roads Minister to end the delays and broken promises and start tackling the Town Centre parking problems many residents across North Down continue to endure.

I am making this call following receipt of an official response from the Roads Service detailing that Residents Parking arrangements haven't been finalised nor trialled despite an announcement by the previous Roads Minister in 2008 heralding "Free Residents Parking Schemes for Belfast.

I am regularly contacted by local people in Holywood and Bangor Town Centre's who are unable to park near their home with many spending each evening searching for a space. With Residents Parking schemes promised back in 2008 people are now fed up and want action.

Pride not Prejudice

Another year and the Annual Pride Parade took place in Belfast today with many gay people plus friends, family and supporters dandering around Belfast City Centre. 

Alliance took part with Alliance Youth plus 
Employment & Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry MLA, Alderman John Blair, Cllr Conrad Dixon and I present.

With the same regularity another DUP representative again condemned gay people earlier this week, this time describing the people who take part in the Pride Parade as repugnant. Another DUP MLA previously used the words “immoral, offensive and obnoxious” concerning gay people whilst an ex-DUP MP previously used words “disgusting, loathed, physical disgust, nauseous, shamefully wicked, vile, an abomination” when describing what she felt about homosexuality.

Sponsor my run for East Africa

A famine has now been declared in parts of Somalia. Over 10,000 people have already died from starvation and disease with more than six children under five per 10,000 dying each day. Over 10 million people are at risk in East Africa due to conflict and some areas being affected by the worst drought in 60 years.  

Whilst I often run I rarely seek sponsorship. With such a disaster occurring I am keen to make a contribution and thus will be running
Dublin Half Marathon on 17 September 2011 and am seeking sponsorship for the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal

You can make your donation online at 
http://www.justgiving.com/andrewmuirni or in person when you next see me.

Cllr Thompson continues campaign to save Johnny the Jig

North Down Alliance Councillor Larry Thompson has welcomed news that NI Environment Agency (NIEA) hasn't yet made a final decision whether to de-list Holywood's Johnny the Jig statue.

Commenting on the matter Cllr Thompson stated "Following recent enquiries it is apparent that NIEA are closely examining all matters including the signficant local opposition expressed to date before convening a formal meeting to determine whether the statue should be de-listed. I welcome this news that the de-listing is not a 'done deal' and hope that common sense will prevail.

Concluding, Cllr Thompson stated "I again urge NIEA to re-think their proposals and avoid removing this important protection. I also urge anyone interested in the matter to contact the Built Heritage section within the NI Environment Agency to make their objections to de-listing known. It's important NIEA are left in no doubt whatsoever that local people oppose their propoals and wish to Save our Statue.

Johnny the Jig is an iconic statue by Rosamond Praeger, a well loved and respected local artist, which forms part of Holywood’s identity and should remain listed."

Cashless society remains a dream

Last week I had to visit a Bank Branch to try and get my address changed. During my visit two customers requested large cash withdrawals totalling £1,000 in one instance and £1,400 in another. Each customer was unsuccessful since they needed to provide Photographic ID and only left with £500.

A few days earlier the UK Payments Council decided to abandon their plans to ban cheques after complaints from many people citing the problems these plans would have caused e.g. payment of fees and deposits to Schools by parents and donations to local charities etc. would all be inhibited. For those lucky enough to have such an item your Blankey Blank Cheque Book and Pen will continue to serve a useful purpose!

Portavo Preservation Group established

Portavo Reservoir - Photo from Save Portavo
Reservoir Facebook profile

A new organisation, Portavo Preservation Group, has met for the first time and is drawing up a plan of action to save Portavo reservoir for future generations of anglers, walkers and environmentalists.

Speaking after the first meeting of the group last night, Alliance Councillor, Andrew Muir, said: “While Northern Ireland Water has deferred the sale of the reservoir until 2012/13, we need to look at ways to ensure it remains in permanent public ownership and is not sold off. 

“Neither the Department of Environment nor Northern Ireland Water incurred any expenditure in acquiring the asset and have had minimal expenditure in its maintenance over the years. It was the ratepayers of Donaghadee who bought the reservoir in the first place, so why should we have to pay to keep it for public use?

Life as a Councillor One Year later

Last year on 8 July 2010 I was appointed as an Alliance Party Councillor on North Down Borough Council for the Holywood DEA replacing Dr David Alderdice. A year on I feel it's appropriate to look back on achievements and experiences to date and towards the future.

Since becoming a Councillor my life has been transformed, all my spare time has been zapped, sleep is a luxury and my home is now Holywood after moving from Bangor in February 2011.

Whilst demanding I still enjoy the role. Over the last year I have become more acquainted with more people, personalities, procedures and policies and think I have managed to establish myself as a credible elected representative.

Cyclists celebrate Bike Week

Mystery Ice Cream Cycle Team
Cyclists from across North Down got on their bikes and celebrated Bike Week 2011 through a variety of events.

Fifteen cyclists participated in a Mystery Ice Cream Cycle on Wednesday 22 June 2011 cycling from the McKee Clock, Bangor to Carnalea and then back to the Banana Boat for a tasty ice cream. Cyclists then cycled to Ballyholme as part of the event which was organised by Friends of the Earth and Sustrans and supported by Bike Works.

Muir calls for action to re-open Portavo Reservoir

Cllr Muir at Portavo Reservoir
The Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) should urgently progress their review concerning access to Portavo Reservoir car park following a recent decision to lock the gate and limit access.
I recently became aware that the gate at Portavo Reservoir had been locked and access was being restricted to this scenic beauty spot by DCAL. I immediately contacted the Angling section within DCAL and after lots of lobbying received an assurance that a review would be carried out concerning access arrangements to the Reservoir. Meanwhile serious Road Safety concerns continue to exist with visitors forced to park on the busy A2 Bangor to Donagadee road, often dodging cars which zoom close by.

Sorrow and Inspiration at Lisburn Half Marathon

Last Wednesday I took part in the Lisburn 10k road race, part of a series of races involving a Fun Run, Half Marathon and 10k which occur on the same day. The races are long established and increasingly popular.

Every year I take part in the 10k I am conscious of the tragedy which occurred in 1988 when six soldiers were murdered by the IRA after five took part in the Half Marathon and one in the Fun Run. 

The pain, suffering and sorrow as a result of Northern Ireland’s troubled past continues today for many. As recently highlighted when Mary McArdle was appointed as a Special Advisor, the need to develop a means to address our past hasn’t gone away and should be tackled rather than dodged by the Secretary of State and our First and deputy First Ministers.

Rory Rory Rory

There is a real sense of joy and anticipation across Holywood after Rory won the US Open late on Sunday night. The topic of discussion in local coffee shops, bars and Newsagents is Rory, Rory, Rory with locals extremely proud of Rory's achievement.

Posters are displayed in shop windows and a mural of the golfing hero now adorns the subway linking the Town Centre and the Railway station, painted a few weeks ago as part of community initative which aims to build upon the good community relations which already exist in the County Down Town.

Muir welcomes funding bids to upgrade North Down Coastal Path

I welcome the decision by North Down Borough Council to seek funding to upgrade the final sections of the North Down Coastal Path. Last Tuesday Council agreed to seek funding from NI Environment Agency and Sustrans to allow walkers and cyclists to travel from Holywood to Bangor along a wider high quality path capable of accomodating bicycles and pedestrians alike.

As a local Councillor and Sustrans Ranger I warmly welcome the decision to seek funding to upgrade the remaining parts of the Coastal Path including the funding bid to tackle the tricky steps at Seahill which make it very difficult for cyclists to peddle from Holywood to Bangor. 

Muir welcomes action to reclaim King John's Walk as Right of Way

Picture of path previously blocked
I welcome the decision by North Down Borough Council to take decisive action to re-open King John’s Highway which has been blocked since August 2010 until earlier this week when it was mysteriously re-opened.

Following sustained lobbying from me, local people and a substancial petition calling for action I am pleased that the Council intend to refer the matter to the Courts in the next few weeks in order to remove to blockage and have King John’s Walk asserted in law as a Public Right of Way.

Last week I handed over a petition to North Down Borough Council containing over 250 signatures calling for the obstructions to be removed forthwith and for all relevant statutory bodies to ensure that future generations can safely enjoy this Right of Way. The case for action is therefore clear.

Bike Week 2011 in North Down

Programme of Events for Bike Week 2011 in North Down have now been finalised, please see below.

I hope you will be able to come along to some of the events and help the joint Friends of the Earth North Down & Ards group / Sustrans campaign to create a Bicycle friendly Borough in North Down.

Mystery Ice Cream Cycle Ride from McKee Clock lastly one hour to a mystery destination and back to the Banana Boat, Gray’s Hill on Wednesday 22 June 2011 departing at 7pm from McKee Clock. Organised by Friends of the Earth North Down & Ards group and Sustrans and supported by Bike Works. No need to pre-register attendance. Contact Paul at Bikeworks for more details Tel 07999302672.

Cycle Skills & Fun Night at Bloomfield Shopping Centre (M&S Multi Story) on Thursday 23 June 2011 at 6pm to 8.30pm organised by North Down Cycle Club and North Down Borough Council Sports Development. Includes skills events, bike safety checks, prizes and open to Children in P4, P5, P6, P7 and Year 8. Participation by pre-entry only with closing date for entries £5 Cost including goodie bag £5. Registration via Tanya Fisher at Bangor Castle Leisure Centre by 10 June 2011 Telephone 028 9146 46667 or email Tanya.Fisher@northdown.gov.uk

Muir condemns fly posting for new nightclub

I condemn the appearance of stickers and posters on lampposts across North Down seeking to advertise a new Night Club. The stickers and posters are a disgrace and I am lobbying the local Council to take action and tackle the problem.

Lampposts across Bangor, Holywood and beyond recently were defaced when stickers and then posters were attached with the message "Bangor Likes This", seeking, it seems, to build interest in a new nightclub which may be opening in Bangor. Many people have contacted me about the issue, some via Facebook and Twitter, requesting action, clearly stating that “Bangor doesn’t like this.

I have contacted relevant Council officers and understand that all available avenues are being explored to get the stickers and posters removed. Anyone with information concerning individuals or company responsible for erection of the stickers and posters should pass this onto the Council in order to help them take action.

Amnesty at 50 Years, the campaigning continues

Last week Amnesty International celebrated its 50th Birthday.

Back on 28 May 1961, David Astor had an articled printed in The Observer entitled "The Forgotten Prisoners" which became part of an "Appeal For Amnesty".

Amnesty International was then born and has grown into a strong organisation fighting for Human Rights across the globe.

Yesterday I spent time writing letters to stop the Execution of Troy Davis.

I also wrote to the Government of Sri Lanka concerning the enforced disappearance of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda

I am a member of Amnesty International for many reasons but, most importantly, because I believe that everyone across the world should be able to enjoy basic Human Rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights especially the Right to Life which Troy may soon be denied.

If you are interested in supporting Amnesty, their campaigns and specific people such as Troy and Prageeth visit www.amnesty.org.uk or contact their Belfast Office (397 Ormeau Road, Belfast, BT7 3GP 028 9064 3000) to find out more details about your local Amnesty group.

Muir calls for action to sort Holywood Town Centre parking problems

The Department for Regional Development need to consider introducing Resident Parking schemes and issue the long awaited Town Centre Parking Report for Holywood without any further delay.

I am often contacted by people in relation to the chronic parking problems experienced in Holywood Town Centre with streets such as Park Drive, Trevor Street, Downshire Road, Spencer Street and My Lady's Mile particularly affected. People living in these and other streets are often unable to park near their home and have to search for a space elsewhere and then walk back home sometimes with heavy bags of shopping.

After researching the issue it is however clear that the Department for Regional Development plan to introduce Residents Parking Schemes in five inner city areas of Belfast. I have therefore written to the new Regional Development Minister requesting that he includes Holywood within the list of initial Residents Parking Schemes.

Consultation should commence straight away with people living in the relevant areas across Holywood concerning whether they want their street designated as a Controlled Parking Zone which would require the display of a permit.

I have also requested that the permit should be available at a low cost and free of charge for those on low incomes rather than costing a scandalous £80 per year, as previously suggested by the Department.

Whilst keen to ensure that the needs of local residents are met, I am also eager to ensure adequate car parking provision in Holywood Town Centre for businesses, workers and visitors alike. I have therefore again contacted the Roads Service requesting a copy of their long awaited report concerning Parking in Holywood Town Centre.

This report should hopefully outline current provision and future requirements which need to be addressed to support a prosperous bustling Town Centre. Upon receipt I will actively campaign for action to ensure Holywood remains the ultimate destination for businesses and visitors alike.

Muir calls for better approach to Census reminders

I have recently been contacted by older people worried they will be fined £1,000 and are unable to speak to someone to tell them the form was sent weeks ago.
With Census Day weeks ago on 27 March some people are now receiving reminders telling them they haven’t returned their form and face a £1,000 form if they don’t hurry up and return the form.
Unfortunately, in a number of instances, the form has already been returned and these reminders are causing serious distress amongst some recipients fearful of the high fine. This is compounded by the fact that when people ring the Census Helpline they cannot speak to anyone as they face a recorded message.
Government must now act without delay and introduce a better approach. They should withdraw the reminders which have caused real concern, replacing them with a polite note and they must also ensure people can speak to someone about the issue.

Muir welcomes more planned Road Improvements in Holywood

I welcome plans to resurface Brook Street, Holywood after recently lobbying the Roads Service to take action and succeeding in persuading the Roads body to resurface Demense Road, Holywood.

Brook Street is currently in a terrible state of disrepair after the cold winter experienced in late 2010 with numerous pot holes posing a threat to motorists and cyclists alike. After lobbying the Roads Service for action I am very  grateful to learn that Brook Street has been added to the resurfacing programme for 2011 / 2012.

I will continue to monitor the situation and endeavour to ensure Brook Street is resurfaced as planned from Monday 23 May to Friday 3 June 2011, delivering upon my commitment to Lead Change across Holywood whether it be via securing resurfacing of Demense Road or improving cycle routes, Alliance delivers.

North Down Council election results

On Monday 9 May 2011 six Alliance Party Councillors were elected to North Down Borough Council including Larry Thompson and I for the Holywood District Electoral Area, Anne Wilson and Tony Hill for Bangor West, Michael Bower for Abbey and Christine Bower for Ballyholme and Groomsport.

Contact details for your new Alliance Councillors can be found at

Full results for all District Electoral Areas can be found at http://www.spectatornewspapers.co.uk/news-and-events.asp?id=1467


Votes 4,436

76 invalid

Total valid 4360

47.03% Turnout

Quota 727

John Barry, Green, 525

Gordon Dunne, DUP, 1081 (elected)

Jennifer Gilmour, DUP, 252 (elected)

Gillian McGimpsey, UUP, 250

Ellie McKay, UUP, 675 (elected)

Andrew Muir, Alliance, 991 (elected)

David O´Callaghan, Conservative and Unionist 185

Larry Thompson, Alliance, 401 (elected)

First stage, deemed elected. Dunne and Muir.

After second stage, McKay elected

After third stage, McGimpsey, O´Callaghan eliminated

After fourth stage, Thompson elected

Final stage, Gilmour elected