Muir congratulates Holywood runner on Dublin Marathon success

I have expressed my congratulations to Holywood man Dr Paul Pollock on his success at the 2012 Dublin Marathon. Paul was the first Irish man to complete the Marathon in a blistering 2hrs 16mins 33seconds, inside the time required to qualify for next year’s World Championships.

To finish as the first Irish Male amongst the 14,535 athletes who took part in the Dublin Marathon is a fantastic achievement. Both Paul, his friends and family, his club (Annadale Striders) and Holywood should be extremely proud of this amazing attainment with Paul running faster than any Northern Irish athlete in 20 years.

As a Holywood resident and keen member of North Down Athletics Club who can only dream of completing a Marathon in such an amazing time I look forward to watching Paul achieve even further successes. Paul has now established himself as one of our premier athletes.

Muir delivers cycle rack at Sainsbury's Bangor

Cllr Andrew Muir and Sainsbury’s
Bangor Manager John Lockhart
with new Cycle Rack
I am encouraging people to use the new cycle rack at Sainsbury’s Bangor after I successfully lobbied for installation of the rack.

Following opening of the store late last year I was contacted by cyclists keen to have somewhere secure to leave their bike when shopping in the new Sainsbury’s store.

After contacting Sainsbury’s and following up the issue with Headquarters and Store Management I am delighted that the landlord has now provided a cycle rack outside the store.

With a rack now in place I would encourage anyone wishing to pick up a few items to ‘Try something new today’ and consider cycling which is quick, environmentally friendly and good for your health.

After securing this rack I am determined to keep working to build a Bicycle friendly Borough and would encourge readers to support the campaign at www.facebook.com/bicyclefriendlyborough

Muir comments on Alcohol Law change proposals

The Department for Social Development are currently consulting on proposed Changes to the Law Regulating the Sale and Supply of Alcohol in Northern Ireland.

Consultation documentation can be accessed at this link.  Deadline for comments is 12 November 2012.

Whilst some of the proposals seem wise and will help to clarify the law to deal with recent developments such as a new bitter with 44.7% alcohol content many of the plans put forward for consultation could be seen as unnecessarily draconian.

We must be careful not to adopt a prohibition mind-set when considering Alcohol Licensing.

The general desire to safeguard society from the ill effects of alcohol must not dissolve the right to enjoy alcohol responsibly.

In these difficult economic times we need to be focused upon supporting businesses and safeguarding society without adopting a ‘nanny state’.

Full justification is therefore required before applying any more red tape and rules which could limit ability of businesses to trade and result in significant extra running costs.

Muir privileged to be awarded Honorary Membership of North Down Cycling Club

I feel very privileged to have recently been granted Honorary Membership of North Down Cycling Club, described by the club as an "exceptionally rare distinction".

The club further states on their web site that I have been awarded membership "In recognition of the work that he has performed to promote safer cycling in the North Down area. Anyone who has cycled on our roads will know that this is a massive battle since most North Down drivers have, at best, a vague understanding of how to share the road".

Since becoming a Councillor over two years ago I have greatly enjoyed combining this role with my interest in sustainable transport as a Sustrans Cycling Ranger and sport as a member of North Down Athletics Club to establish a Bicycle friendly Borough. Cycling is good for the body, mind and environment and must be made safer and more attractive.

When I became aware of inconsiderate and sometimes dangerous driving by lorries servicing quarries in the Craigantlet Hills I immediately took action liaising with the Police and meeting quarry owners onsite. Through this determined approach I hope that lorries will no longer endanger the lives of cyclists. I do however encourage anyone with concerns to contact me if the problem reoccurs.

In addition to this work I continue to lobby the Council and other bodies to upgrade the final section of the North Down Coastal Path to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians alike. More recently I have also called upon Council to change the by-laws, remove the No Cycling Signs and lift the threat of prosecution for any cyclists using sections of the path already upgraded to accommodate cyclists.

In recent months I personally raised concerns with the Justice Minister concerning the need for an improved response from the Criminal Justice System concerning motorists who injure cyclists on the road. Every ghost bike is one too many.

I am also campaigning for the provision of improved cycling parking facilities in Bangor and Holywood Town Centres, a Cycle Hire Scheme, greater enforcement to ensure safe unobstructed passage along cycle lanes, improved Cycle Path cleanliness through regular sweeping to remove debris and a new cycle path network between Belfast and Donaghadee using the pavement and spare road space near Orlock.

I will continue to work with all relevant partners in the Bicycle Friendly Borough campaign to address these and other issues. Together We shall Overcome and put the wheels in motion towards a safer and more attractive cycling culture in North Down.

I look forward to engaging with North Down Cycling Club, geared up to attend next Social Event and maybe one day soon will be found out with the club zooming past in the legendary pink and black North Down Cycling Club colours on a club run.

Councillor, North Down Borough Council (Alliance Party)
Sustrans Volunteer Cycling Ranger
North Down Athletics Club member -
competing in 5k, 10k and Half Marathon Road races
Vice Chair, Alliance Party of Northern Ireland 

Muir raises questions concerning Creationism at Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre

I recently submitted Freedom of Information (FOI) questions to various government departments to ascertain background to the decision by the National Trust to reflect Creationism within their new Giant's Causeway Visitors Centre.

Whilst Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure responded detailing no information was held, Department of the Environment released one document revealing lobbying by "Causeway Creation Committee" sponsored by Dunluce Christian Fellowship.

After making a compliant and raising the matter with the media Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) released some information which 
raises more questions than it answers. 

Whilst I am grateful that Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment have finally released the documents requested on 8 July 2012 I am disappointed information is so heavily redacted and strangely sparse. On the basis of the information provided some serious questions do however need to be answered by the Department.

Within DETI FOI response is an email dated 9 November 2009 which states “I’ve amended draft to take on board NITB comment re National Trust unwillingness to accept Creationism to be included in the exhibition , as a grant condition. Are you content for submission to be submitted?

Did the previous or current DETI Minister seek to impose requirement to include Creationism as a Grant Condition? 

Were any contractual obligations imposed upon the National Trust to meet the needs to creationist campaigners such as Caleb?

Transparency and openness in relation to this issue is urgently required. I therefore call upon DETI to clarify without delay the role played by previous and current Enterprise Ministers in relation to inclusion of Creationism within the new Giants Causeway Centre.

Organisations such as Caleb should not be given any undue influence on independent organisations such as the National Trust as a result of the political inclination of government Ministers. Religion and Politics must be kept separate. The place for creationist theories is in Church not tourist attractions such as the new Giants Causeway Visitors Centre.

A further Freedom of Information request has now been submitted to the NI Tourist Board to find out exactly why creationism appeared at the Visitors Centre.

Muir welcomes Twisel Bridge agreement

I welcome news that North Down Borough Council and Roads Service have formally agreed future arrangements concerning upkeep of Twisel Bridge, Holywood. 

The bridge is known locally as the Kissing Bridge and used by pedestrians to travel between Victoria Road and Church Road, Holywood.

Twisel Bridge, Holywod
© Copyright 
Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
After a significant amount of lobbying I am glad to see Twisel Bridge tidied up and agreement reached concerning future upkeep. 

Two years ago Twisel Bridge and associated path was in a terrible state but after relentlessly raising the issue safe passage is possible, memorial stone cleaned up and formal agreement in place to ensure it doesn’t fall back into disrepair.

Alliance concerned viewers will lose Irish television stations through digital switchover

Alliance representatives have raised concerns that people across Northern Ireland will be unable to pick up RTE, TG4 and TV3 television channels, after the digital switchover starts tomorrow, October 10.
Earlier this year Ministers confirmed RTE 1, RTE 2 and TG4 will be available via Freeview following completion of the Digital Switchover on October 24, 2012.
However Alliance Councillors Andrew Muir and Patrick Clarke have now discovered viewers will need to obtain a new Freeview HD box to receive RTE and TG4, with TV 3 set to remain unavailable.
And with supplies of Freeview HD boxes running low, some viewers could face a longer wait to have full access to these channels.
BT Vision viewers will also have to wait until early 2013 to get RTE, whilst Saorview coverage will be patchy limiting ability of Northern Ireland's residents to pick-up Ireland's Freeview service.
Whilst I welcome the move to provide RTE and TG4 via Freeview, it is important that the public are aware of the technical limitations.
Viewers currently watching Digital Terrestrial TV need to check if they have a Freeview HD box if they wish to pick-up RTE rather than the traditional Freeview Standard boxes which won't be able to show RTE 1, 2 and TG4.
Anyone eligible for the Digital Switchover Help Scheme should make sure they request a Freeview HD box at the time of ordering if they wish to pick-up RTE, otherwise they could be left with just the standard channels currently available.
I am very disappointed to learn that the Digital Switchover scheme has run out of Freeview HD boxes, but encouraged that they will provide a standard box straight away and return a few weeks later to upgrade viewers to HD free of charge.
I am also disappointed at the exclusion of TV3 from the Freeview platform, and that BT Vision boxes cannot be upgraded to Freeview HD.
I accept that Freeview can never offer a limitless number of channels, but I am particularly disappointed that TV3 will remain unavailable due to the technical and commercial reasons cited by Department Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in their recent letter. TV3 is a popular channel watched by many and should be available across the Island of Ireland.
With many people now watching Freeview via BT Vision I was particularly concerned to learn that the boxes cannot be upgraded to Freeview HD.
After contacting BT's Chief Executive I am however assured that their Belfast based Global Development Centre plans to adapt the boxes and stream RTE 1, 2 and TG4 via the internet to each BT Vision box, with a full release currently planned for January-March 2013. Whilst a number of months after the completion of the Digital Switchover this innovative development built in Belfast should help provide a useful workaround.
Cllr Patrick Clarke
Commenting on the patchy Saorview coverage across Northern Ireland, Down District Alliance Councillor Patrick Clarke added: "With many viewers unwilling to upgrade to Freeview HD boxes and keen to view the many Irish Channels via Ireland's Freeview service Saorview, I am very concerned that many parts of Northern Ireland will be unable to pick-up a Saorview signal.
"Many of my constituents in Newcastle and Dundrum will remain unable to pick-up broadcasts from South of the Border due to the Mourne Mountains and rightfully request a booster signal.
"I have therefore written to Ireland's Communications and Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte seeking an update if any plans exist to boost Saorview coverage in the North and look forward to his response.
"Through concerted action Alliance is determined to ensure all viewers are able to avail of the Digital Switchover benefits. Anyone with any further questions concerning the Digital Switchover should visit www.digitaluk.co.uk"

Alliance Leads Change for more locally grown food

Alliance North Down Councillors have planted the seeds for more locally grown food in the area, with Cllr Harbinson and I jointly persuading the Council to assess current options and costs for increasing allotments within the Borough.

We have also called on the Council to consider other Big Society Community alternatives, if the cost of increasing allotments within the Borough proves too great.

Speaking after the ratification of the proposal to examine allotment provision, Councillor Adam Harbinson said: "I welcome the Council's decision to explore the possibility of increased allotment provision and look forward to working with my Council colleagues as we move forward on this issue.

"The Alliance Party is a long time campaigner of community food initiatives, which can help cut household budgets and are good for the health and our communities. There is a broad consensus that growing your own vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers is a therapeutic activity, good for the environment and our economy.

"The benefits of allotments and other initiatives promoting locally grown food can already be seen in Kilcooley, where produce is being distributed to needy families in the area."

We look forward to receiving the Officer's report and, conscious of the need to keep any rates rises to a minimum in the current economic climate, also call on the Council to explore other Big Society alternatives, such as the fantastic Growing Connections initiative currently being delivered near Six Road Ends and the Community Orchard idea being championed by Holywood Transition Town.