Muir thanks Council for Holocaust Memorial Events

Cllr Muir and artist Leslie Nicholl
I am very thankful to the officers at North Down Borough Council for organising a series of events to Commemorate to the Holocaust including a strong art exhibition by artist Leslie Nicholl after I proposed the initiative last year. (details at North Down Council speaks out about The Holocaust)

I previously brought a motion to the Council detailing “That this Council recognises that the Holocaust was unprecedented in its character and horror, will always hold universal meaning, must never be forgotten and In order to ensure current and future generations understand the causes of the Holocaust and reflect upon its consequences, request that officers bring back a report on the possibility of arranging a small series of events in North Down surrounding Holocaust Memorial Day 2013.”  It was passed unanimously.

Some of exhibition images
I am extremely grateful to all the Council officers involved in delivering the events plus the artist Leslie Nicholl. Leslie Nicholl’s exhibition entitled 'Gedanken sind Frei'/'Thoughts are Free' (Hans Litten) is currently in the North Down Museum from 21 January - 25 February 2013.

The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Holocaust Survivor Helen Lewis with title from a poem by Hans Litten, a German Barrister who challenged Hitler in the courts and died in a Concentration camp after being tortured.

Dedicating the title to a poem by Hans Litten is very significant highlighting why it’s important lawyers should be able to practice freely and why democracy and freedom of political thought is so important.

Other events organised included a talk and visit to the Belfast Synagogue which was extremely interesting whilst saddening to hear about declining membership.

Martin Luther King once stated “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. Leslie Nicholl’s exhibition isn’t silent, it speaks volumes with a strong and loud message. I urge readers to visit the exhibition which features images of Holocaust victims.

Holocaust Memorial Day theme in 2013 is “Building Bridges”. I urge people to experience the exhibition and consider how they can build bridges themselves to challenge prejudice and ensure horrors of Holocaust never happen again,

More details on Leslie Nicholl’s exhibition can be found at http://www.northdownmuseum.com/What-s-On/World-Holocause-Memorial-Day-Exhibition-Gedanken-s

Muir secures Council commitment to Stamp out Mental Health Stigma

I am very grateful to have secured unanimous support from North Down Borough Council for my motion to Stamp out Mental Health Stigma. Council met on Tuesday 15 February 2013 and endorsed motion reading “That this Council notes with concern current levels of stigma, discrimination and negative attitudes towards people with experience of mental ill-health and endorses the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health’s Change Your Mind – Stamp Out Stigma campaign to address these attitudes.”

The values of a society can be measured by attitudes and support it gives to those who are most vulnerable, who, in addition to the difficulties associated with the mental ill health suffer from stigma and discrimination, social isolation and poverty. I therefore felt it important for Council to send a strong message in support of Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health’s Change your Mind – Stamp out Stigma campaign.

Stigma must be tackled throughout society so that it no longer remains a major barrier to equality nor impacts on the ability to seek help early and the possibility of recovery. Stigma leads to fear and mistrust against people living with mental illness and their families, prejudice and discrimination with family and friends turning their backs on people with mental illness. With 1 in 4 adults experiencing at least one diagnosable mental health problem and only 230 out of 300 who require help visiting their GP need for action is clear.

We can all play our role by taking just one of the actions outlined by Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health. Whether its meeting with people who experience mental ill-health to find out what stigma looks like and how people wants it to be addressed or organising an anti-stigma workshop opportunities for action are immense. We can also take action to look after our own mental health or securing commitments to stamp out stigma through motions, debates, questions.

Personally athletics and fitness is my way to look after my own mental health. I am very grateful to all the Councillors who spoke and voted in support of this motion, together we have taken one small step towards an end to the negative attitudes towards people with experience of mental ill-health.

Decision to adopt motion to be ratified at Council on Tuesday 29 January 2013.

Ripples of Hope at Lagan Valley Alliance AGM

New Lagan Valley Alliance Chairperson
Aaron McIntyre
I was very grateful to be invited to Lagan Valley Alliance AGM on Thursday evening (17 January 2013) in Lisburn as Guest Speaker in my roles as Vice Chair of the Party and Alliance Party Councillor on North Down Borough Council. Cllr Jennifer Coulter handed over the baton to Aaron McIntryre who was elected as New Chairperson of the Association along with a vibrant team.

Since being invited as Speaker in 2012 Northern Ireland has experienced significant civil unrest involving Protests, illegal road blocks and Parades, Riots, attempted Murder of Police Officer, Death threats against Alliance and other elected representatives, attacks on the homes of Councillors, Constituency Offices destroyed and attacked. 

These events have taken place after Belfast City Council voted to fly Union Flag on Designated Days, preceded by a coordinated campaign to whip up tensions involving delivery of 40,000 bogus leaflets by the DUP and Ulster Unionist Party in specific areas across Belfast misrepresenting the issue and the Alliance Party in the misguided belief that it would help unseat Naomi Long as Alliance MP for East Belfast. 

Harold Macmillan once remarked "Events, my dear boy, events". These events have transformed political dialogue across Northern Ireland towards the issue of a Shared Society, what it should look like, how it can be built and whether you are for or against Rule of Law. 

As Naomi Long MP recently stated we can no longer try and build our future on an earthquake zone where the tectonic plates shift when the Past, Parades, Flags, Emblems, Identity or other issues arise. The time for action is now.

Alliance has been Leading Change on these issues and recognises that after weeks of civil strife the thirst for leadership and hope is strong. Alliance is providing this leadership and hope in the knowledge that change can and does happen - whether it's the end of Apartheid in South Africa, fall of the Berlin Wall, election and reelection of President Obama or transformation of  Irish Society the winds of change continue to blow. 

Locally we now have generally non sectarian workplaces with much reduced levels of  discrimination, rise of Integrated Education and general eradication of discrimination in housing allocation led by the Housing Executive. 

Sinn Fein are in government and support the police. Sinn Fein share power with the DUP. Both serve together as First and deputy First Ministers. Naomi Long is MP for East Belfast. Dr Stephen Farry MLA serves diligently as Minister for Employment and Learning alongside David Ford MLA as Northern Ireland's courageous Justice Minister. Change is possible.

Bobby Kennedy once remarked "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

I am immensely proud of the courageous actions taken by Alliance across Northern Ireland to create these ripples of hope whether by having the courage and leadership to deliver a  compromise solution over the Union Flag issue at Belfast City Hall or outlining that the only way forward is to work together to build a Shared Future. Whipping up tribal tensions by huddling together in a Unionist Forum or pursing political stunts like a Border Poll risk bringing us back to our Divided Past. We stand against these moves and for a positive Shared Society based firmly on not mere tolerance but respect and acceptance releasing that each individual has a distinct identity to be valued and celebrated.

The crusade to create a Shared Society continues. The battle is hard, the decisions are difficult but we will succeed. We are on the right of history. We owe it to future generations to resolve those issues that continue to divide us, settle the tectonic plates and build a stable Shared Society together.