Mayor Muir supports Holywood Buy Local Initiative

Kate Nicholl, Mayor Andrew Muir and Proprietor
Demelza Kelly-Flynn at Eighty One 
Holywood promoting 
Buy Local Initiative phlok app

I launched a new Holywood Buy Local Initiative on Saturday 25 January 2014 as Mayor of North Down when the phlok Mobile Phone App was unveiled.

phlok allows users to earn points when they buy goods or services from local businesses and then cash in the points for a monetary discount, just like other well known Loyalty Cards. The phlok app can be downloaded and used free of charge on iPhone and Android Smartphones.

With Holywood enjoying such a wide range of local good value, high quality Independently owned businesses arrival of phlok is warmly welcomed encouraging and rewarding those who Shop Local. 

The challenge ahead is to enable Holywood to thrive rather than merely survive. The phlok app together with the £2.4million Public Realm Scheme delivered jointly by North Down Borough Council and the Department for Social Development provides ideal ingredients for success.

I was particularly impressed how easy it was to register and use the phlok app and encourage anyone who uses local businesses in Holywood Town Centre to flock to the app and start reaping the benefits of shopping locally.

Mayor Muir speaks at Bangor Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration Event

Mayor Muir speaking at the event
On Monday 27 January evening I was humbled and honoured to lead the Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration at The Castle, Town Hall, Bangor as Mayor of North Down.

Millisle Primary School Pupil Jasper Robbins read an extract from ‘Faraway Home’ by Marilyn Taylor alongside another Pupil Molly McBride who read a extract from Martha Blend, Holocaust Survivor.

Guest Speaker Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International spoke about Genocides from across the world, the need to stand up for Human Rights and recalled the quote "And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world" (Talmud).

Some more Millisle Primary School Pupils then spoke, with Lucy Cunningham reading an extract from ‘Faraway Home’ by Marilyn Taylor and Jake Donaldson reading an extract from Paul Gruninger, Swiss Police Commander.

Larry Kitzler and Mayor Muir at Candle Lit
to remember victims of the Holocaust
Words from Larry Kitzler, a descendant from the Kinderfarm in Millisle were read by Pupil Jasper Robbins followed by reflective comments from myself as Mayor of North Down with Larry then lighting the candle to remember victims of the Holocaust.

When speaking at the start I remarked that the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day this year is “Journeys” and that we are all on a journey

Commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day in Northern Ireland started in 2002

Since first Commemoration in 2002 Northern Ireland’s journey has progressed with devolution now firmly in place, Equality and Human Rights protected in law, policies and procedures proofed for compliance and at the core of our new policing setup.

We do however need to progress further on this journey if we are to realise the hopes and dreams of many for a truly open, welcoming and shared society devoid of prejudice and discrimination which includes rather than excludes those considered different.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International speaking
As the well-known Pyramid of Hate demonstrates the journey from Prejudiced Attitudes to Genocide can be progressed far too easily and quickly without appropriate leadership prepared to challenge intolerant prejudicial attitudes and promote diversity as something  that should be celebrated rather than rejected.

Journey from Prejudiced Attitudes to Acts of Prejudice to Discrimination, then Violence and finally Genocide has, unfortunately, been followed on many occasions, whether in Nazi occupied Germany & Europe, Somalia, former Yugoslavia Rwanda, Cambodia or Darfur history has many examples where journey to genocide progressed due to breakdown in society and need for strong cohesive leadership against hate and for inclusion and respect.

In closing I remarked that the event was an opportunity to understand why prejudicial attitudes should be challenged by recalling the past, learning lessons and remembering those affected by the Holocaust and Genocides across the world.

The total number of holocaust victims is estimated to be between 11 million and 17 million people and includes Jews, Soview POWs, Ethnic Poles, Romani, people with a disability, the mentally ill, black or Asian people, Freemasons, Slovenes, Lesbian and Gay people, plus political dissidents, communists, socialists, trade unionists and those with particular religious views such as Jehovah's Witnesses.

Pastor Martin Niemöller once famously remarked;

First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me

I stated that by holding the event we speak out and focus upon wider issues with Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International and the story of the Kinderfarm in Millise which serves as a positive beacon of hope with many people saved as a result of the Kindertransport and the Kinderfarm.

Anne Frank once said “I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.”

Anne Frank never got the opportunity to carry out her ideals but whilst we have the opportunity we should continue pursing inclusion, equality and respect whilst reflecting on the Holocaust, remembering those lost and recalling both causes and lessons to learn.

Mayor goes back to School

 St Malachy’s Primary School Principal,
Head Boy and Head Girl and Mayor Muir
I went back to my roots on Monday 20 January 2014 by visiting St Malachy’s Primary School, Bangor. I attended the school until 1988 when I transferred to St Columbanus’ College, Bangor.

During my visit I met Principal Mr Rafferty, the Head Boy and Head Girl, Teachers, Pupils, Classroom Assistants the Building Supervisor and Catering Staff.

It was great to be back at my former Primary School to see a vibrant, inclusive, high quality learning environment in action. Since leaving in 1988 St Malachy’s has went from strength to strength with a warm, friendly atmosphere, excellent teaching and a sense of discipline prevailing throughout the high quality building. The inclusive respectful ethos that exists within St Malachy’s Primary School is positive and to be admired. All those involved with the school should be rightly proud of their achievements to date.

Mayor Muir and sister Nadine Muir
Both my sister and I attended the school and are grateful for the education provided, enabling me to progress to University and my sister to take a Masters Degree and specialise in Maths and Actuary. During our time at the school my Mum donated the ‘Muir Cup’ for trying hard. The level of focus and determination from all the Pupil’s in encountered during my visit made it clear that every Pupil now deserves this award in 2014.

I particularly enjoyed the question and answer session with Primary 7 Pupil’s who were all aware of the positive contribution Martin Luther King and other persons such as Ghandi and Mother Theresa made on the day when Martin Luther King’s legacy is celebrated across the USA and beyond. I look forward to welcoming the Primary 7 Pupil’s to the Town Hall later this year returning the warm welcome experienced at St Malachy’s.

Muir meets Minister over Kinnegar sewage stink

Kinnegar Lagoons from bing.com
I met with the Minister for Regional Development on Tuesday 7 January 2014 to resolve the on-going Kinnegar sewage pollution problem in Holywood. During the meeting Minister Danny Kennedy MLA confirmed that NI Water plan to have contractors on site in June 2014 to re-direct sewage and waste water away from the Kinnegar Lagoons and into a purpose built facility to stop on-going pollution. 

It was confirmed by Minister Kennedy and NI Water officials present that construction work will take approximately one year after which the focus will then turn to how to repair the badly polluted Kinnegar Lagoons which seem to cause most of the odour problems. NI Water officials present detailed that sewage, sea water, low tides and other factors in the lagoons are considered the cause of the on-going stink with any agitation likely to cause further sustained malodour.

I have been campaigning on the issue since becoming a Councillor in 2010 and glad to have secured significant progress with NI Water first acknowledging the problem after sustained lobbying, then spending thousands to investigate the source and finally committing over £3million to resolve the sewage pollution problem which has caused awful odours for years. After raising the issue directly with NI Water, via colleagues at the NI Assembly and via EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik progress now finally seems to be on the horizon with Ministerial commitment secured.

I am very grateful to Minister Kennedy for the opportunity to discuss concerns about the on-going sewage pollution problem in Kinnegar area, Holywood. People living, working or travelling nearby have had to ensure this awful malodour for far too long with the local lagoons now destroyed and devoid of wildlife as a result. I look forward to seeing construction work finally commencing and am assured by NI Water they will engage with local people to minimise any inconvenience caused.

More information is due soon on how to repair the Kinnegar Lagoons which will need to be carefully considered in conjunction with local people to gain their views on the options available and likely inconvenience and malodour arising as a result of Phase Two. Until this information is available my focus will be on getting Phase One construction work started, finally beginning to end the Kinnegar sewage stink.

Past Pupil gives Mayoral support to St Columbanus’ College

Ahead of the Open Evening at St Columbanus' College, Bangor on Tuesday 14 January 2014 7pm to 9pm I have strong positive memories as a past pupil of the inclusive successful ethos that exists at St Columbanus' College enabling Pupils to prosper and realise their ambitions.

My own personal visit back to the School to attend the Annual Prize giving Ceremony on 24 October 2013 alongside constant ongoing contact with current Pupils and Parents verifies that this fantastic ethos and academic success continues today in 2013 led by two inspirational people - School Principal Liam Perry and Vice Principal Mrs McQuillan who helped ensure my own academic success back in 1993.

The religious make-up of St Columbanus is widely known with the College part of the Catholic Maintained Sector but yet mixed in terms of religious breakdown. Whilst others debate how our future educational system should look like they should stop and look at St Columbanus' College which is an amazing positive example of an inclusive school environment, educating children together in a culture of respect on the basis of fundamental principles embraced by most people of all faiths and none. 

As someone from a Mixed Marriage background I was profoundly grateful to be educated in this environment and am delighted this educational success continues today, attracting Children and Young people from all backgrounds.

A School with such a positive track record shouldn't however be denied the right to a new School Building much longer. All the boxes are ticked and time has come for action to ensure future generations enjoy schooling in a modern fit for purpose building. My colleague at the NI Assembly Kieran McCarthy MLA has already asked why the new building hasn't been granted and I will continue to lobby the Department for Education to ensure real positive progress.

Mayor comments on North Down battle against flood waters

Cllr Muir at Kinnegar on Friday 3 January 2014
I joined in efforts to battle against tidal surges in recent days and the resulting flood waters which engulfed the Kinnegar area in Holywood, Boathouse Restaurant in Bangor and Groomsport Harbour area. 250 sandbags were deployed by the Council and Rivers Agency in the Kinnegar area, Holywood.

With Northern Ireland prepared for unprecedented tidal levels from Friday 3 January to Monday 6 January 2014 I kept in constant contact with North Down Borough Council’s Emergency Planning Officer. When Friday’s tidal surge resulted in flooding of the Esplanade at Kinnegar, Holywood I was immediately on site and was relieved when flood waters missed most homes although disappointed a few garages were affected and hope the clean-up operation for residents concerned will not be too onerous. Availability of sand bags from the Army on Friday morning and Police officers on Friday and Monday afternoons in Holywood to re-direct traffic to alternative access route via Airport Road was also appreciated with flooding blocking the main entrance to Kinnegar from the A2 for over two hours on each day.

With water stopping just inches from homes in Groomsport and Kinnegar I was glad to see request for additional sandbags met by North Down Borough Council and the Rivers Agency. I am however extremely saddened to hear that the Boathouse Restaurant in Bangor sustained some flood damage on Friday but grateful to Council officers for the provision of a pump plus assistance to clear the basement of water as well as cleaning up the area. Good news is the renowned Boat House Restaurant is now back in business and due to re-open on Tuesday 7 January 2013.

With three cars apparently damaged as a result of flood waters in the Kinnegar area on Monday, Boat House Restaurant flooded on Friday plus Groomsport Harbour Master’s Office, Cockle Row Cottages and the public conveniences building in Groomsport Harbour affected lessons can be learned about areas now at risk when tidal surges arise allowing allocation of resources to these areas if sea levels rise beyond usual levels.

The Kinnegar seawall defences have again proved their worth holding back most of the tidal surge and saving many properties from significant flooding. Whilst a number of rats did emerge from these defences during the tidal surge on Friday all thankfully returned to the walls and will hopefully never be seen again!. My colleague Councillor Larry Thompson was on site on Monday afternoon and also witnessed flooding of the A2 Kinnegar entrance which occurs on a much more regular basis than is acceptable. Cllr Thompson therefore plans to raise this ongoing problem with relevant authorities to explore possibilities of a permanent solution.

Mayor support for North Down Citizens Advice Bureau

I was delighted to attend recent North Down Citizens Advice Bureau Annual General Meeting late 2013. As Mayor of North Down seeking to develop an inclusive society for everyone I greatly appreciate work of North Down Citizens Advice Bureau who seek to reach out and support people pushed to the edge of society, Working as One with others to overcome challenges encountered by individuals across the Borough. 

I am particularly concerned about the negative effects of Welfare Reform and will do all I can to ensure CAB are given appropriate support to deal with harmful impact on local people when the changes eventually come into effect.