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Friday, 17 December 2021

Alliance calls for government to grasp opportunity from delay to sale of Kinnegar Holywood Army Base

North Down Alliance representatives have called upon central and local government to grasp the opportunity arising from news that sale of Kinnegar Logistics Base in Holywood has been delayed by two years from 2022 to 2024. 

Member of Parliament for North Down Dr Stephen Farry stated “The Ministry of Defence has recently informed me that the anticipated disposal of Kinnegar Logistics Base has been delayed from 2022 to 2024. On the surface, this may be concerning news. But on reflection, this gives the Council and the potential developers time and the opportunity to fully engage with stakeholders, including the local community and facilitate creative and innovative and sustainable solutions. This is a one-off opportunity that we need to get right” 

Also commenting on the development, Andrew Muir MLA for North Down, who raised the matter in the Assembly on Monday 13 December 2021, stated “Whilst the site is currently the location for the temporary resting place that must be kept in place for as long as it is sadly required as a 54 acre prime site close to Belfast Kinnegar Logistics Base offer a huge wealth of potential that could be utilised but this must be in close consultation with local people with opening up and utilisation of the access road from Airport Road a critical part of any plans. 

Whilst I was disappointed by the decision taken by the DUP and UUP last year to defund the Masterplan process I previously recommended as a Councillor I would urge Ards and North Down Borough Council to re-think and fund the Masterplan in the context of this recent announcement and potential for many new jobs and millions of pounds of private sector investment. 

The Department for Communities must also step-up to help ensure acquisition of the site for regeneration using some of the powers they were meant to devolve to Councils but never did and indeed the Ministry of Defence must also speed up work to enable future development of the site. 

Most crucially, the Ministry of Defence need to reconsider their disposal policy and work with the Department for Communities and wider Northern Ireland Executive to align with previous disposal arrangements for many other bases”.

Official Report: Monday 13 December 2021

Members' Statements

Kinnegar Logistics Base

Mr Muir: I want to raise the future of Kinnegar logistics base in Holywood and to urge central and local government to grasp the opportunity presented by the recent decision, by the Ministry of Defence, to delay disposal by two years from 2022 to 2024. Kinnegar was previously a busy base, employing up to 1,000 civilian staff at the height of the Troubles, but the future need for this 54-acre base has changed. I welcome the commitment given by the Ministry of Defence that no job losses will occur and those currently employed there will be redeployed to other barracks.

 
Whilst the site is currently the location for the temporary resting place — and that must be kept in place for as long as it is, sadly, required — Kinnegar logistics base offers a huge wealth of potential that could be utilised, but it must be done in close consultation with local people. Kinnegar is already busy with traffic and, with its being built on sand dunes and needing robust flood protections, consulting with and securing the buy-in of local residents is essential in relation to plans and to any works that may be undertaken. The opening up and utilisation of the access road from Airport Road is a critical part of any plans. Additional vehicles cannot be squeezed through the esplanade.
 
As we have unfortunately seen at other sites across Northern Ireland, far too often assets close down, people move on and all that is left is a site turned into nothing more than an eyesore while public bodies dither and debate its future. In this context, in early 2018, I proposed, and the council agreed, the pursuit of a mixed-use master plan for the site in close consultation with local residents, businesses and other key stakeholders. I was, therefore, very disappointed to learn that, with £31 million of investment and over 1,000 new jobs on the horizon, some parties came together two years later, in February 2020, to defund this master planning work. I urge the council to rethink that in the context of the recent MOD announcement and put in place the necessary funding to safeguard its rates revenue from the site and also be part of efforts to boost its rates revenue and the significant jobs and wider investment that are possible.
 
The Department for Communities must also step up to help ensure the acquisition of the site for regeneration using some of the powers that were meant to devolve to councils but never did. Indeed, the Ministry of Defence must also speed up its work to enable the future development of the site. Crucially, the Ministry of Defence needs to reconsider its disposal policy and work with the Department for Communities and the wider Northern Ireland Executive to align its previous disposal arrangements with other bases.

Kinnegar logistics base has been part of the Holywood landscape for years and must be utilised, in close consultation with local residents, to create jobs, deliver homes and help keep Holywood on the map as somewhere to live and do business.

Alliance welcomes St Anne’s bid for Integrated Status

St Anne's Primary School in Donaghadee is at the beginning of an exciting journey towards hopefully becoming an Integrated School. 

The school was originally founded in 1932 and is situated on Millisle Road near the Town Centre.  Pupils come from Donaghadee, Millisle, Newtownards, Bangor and surrounding areas as well as internationally from Europe and Asia.  A recent parental vote on integration saw 96% of parents in support of the move. 


North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir is supporting their bid and said; "I am delighted to hear the results of the recent parental ballot at St Anne's Primary School. The Alliance Party are strong supporters of Integrated Education and I am thrilled to offer my support to the school as it takes its next steps in the months ahead. I have met with the Principal and parents who are excited about this new direction for the school and the momentum this will offer to children from different traditions and backgrounds.

This is an excellent opportunity for the school and locale. With new housing developments earmarked for the Donaghadee area it is anticipated there will be an increase in demand for more school places in the coming years and the move to becoming Integrated School offers a bright future for the Town. 

Integrated education is a key part of the Alliance Party's ethos, we believe that it helps us break down division in Northern Ireland by allowing children from all different backgrounds to learn together.  It is vital that decisions regarding education are based on what is best for our children and our society." 

Louise McCartney, a parent from St Anne's was delighted to hear the results of the parental ballot; "We are extremely happy over the landslide vote from parents in favour of integrated status and look forward to working with the wider community on this exciting new journey for the school." 

Dr Stephen Farry MP for North Down commented; "This approach is also likely to the most viable means to sustain and maximise the number of local primary school places in Donaghadee. With the current level of development in the town, and an increasingly diverse population, the integrated option is likely to be the most viable and inclusive way forward. 

It is also important to stress that Integrated Education is respectful of all faiths and seeks to accommodate them. For those parents who place a premium on that approach to education should be reassured of the strong precedents demonstrated elsewhere in Northern Ireland." 

Local Alliance Councillor Gavin Walker added "This is an exciting time for parents, staff, governors, and the wider school family at St Anne's as they pursue their journey toward integration. I have already taken the opportunity to provide practical support as the school undertakes to engage with every local household. 

The provision of an integrated Primary School would be really positive for Donaghadee as additional housing means we are welcoming so many new families into our community. For many years St Anne's has been an important source of education for local families from diverse backgrounds and traditions and this next step in its development is one I am confident our whole community will support."

Muir meets Education Minister at St Columbanus' College Bangor

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir met with Education Minister Michelle McIlveen MLA, School Principal Maria Flynn, Chair of Board of Governors at McCartan, Father Gunn and officials on Monday 13 December 2021 to discuss a range of issues including accommodation requirements and road safety at nearby Ring Road. 

Commenting after the meeting Andrew Muir MLA stated “Opened on 29 November 1960 St Columbanus’ College is a first class school which both I and my mother had the privilege of attending with demand outstripping supply every year in terms of enrolment as a result of the excellent learning outcomes delivered through excellent teaching and a supportive environment fostered by staff and school leadership. 

With many of the school buildings constructed back in 1960 still standing and a number of mobile classrooms now in place the need for sustained investment in new and refurbished accommodation is clear. I was therefore grateful of the opportunity to make the case for this investment to the Minister with both short and long term actions needed to ensure young people are able to learn in quality spaces. 

With pupils living across the ring road having to cross the busy four lane carriageway without aid of a pelican cross the need for action and investment was also clearly made. I welcome the commitment I recently obtained from the Infrastructure Minister for assessment for provision of a controlled pedestrian crossing at the A2 East Circular Road and will continue to lobby the Infrastructure Minister to both meet on-site to see the issue and deliver this much needed crossing without delay”

Muir demands more action on water quality and safety at North Down Bathing areas

North Down Alliance MLA, Andrew Muir has highlighted the need for more local places to be designated as bathing areas ensuring that crucial water quality sampling will take place with testing occuring throughout the year. 

Mr Muir said; “I recently raised the issue of Water Quality and Safety at North Down Coastal Bathing areas in the Assembly and following correspondence with the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs I have requested that the popular bathing areas of Donaghadee Harbour, Orlock Point, Skippingstone Beach and Brompton are included in the review of bathing waters scheduled for 2022. These are not designated within the 26 current Northern Ireland bathing sites. 

Action is needed to ensure participants of this ever-increasing activity are protected from the potential dangers of polluted bathing waters, given that water quality testing only takes place between 1 June – 15 September each year at a select number of sites.  This is inadequate and there is a distinct need for year round water sampling to be undertaken and digital reporting of these results promptly issued. 

In addition there is a necessity for increased investment in promoting safety and sea awareness across our coastal waters and I am encouraged to see the instalment of new safety measures involving signage for bathers at a range of bathing spots along the North Down coastal area which will inform and advise people on how to stay safe in the water. 

I am however acutely aware that so much more needs to be done. Increased investment in the bathing water infrastructure such as bathing shelters, seawall railings, ladders and slipways will not only ensure that users of coastal areas can do so safely, but also that these inclusive spaces can be easily accessed by all. 

With Storm Arwen having wreaked havoc throughout the UK recently I was saddened to see the damage caused to the sea steps used by swimmers at Brompton in Bangor and have contacted the Council to urge repair and replacement work be undertaken asap as I know there’s many hardy souls who swim here all year round”

Sunday, 21 November 2021

Muir Spends Local to Give Local

North Down Alliance MLA  Andrew Muir seized the opportunity to use his Spend Local pre-paid card to not only support the local High Street but also to help a local charity provide resources to the most vulnerable in society.   The Salvation Army Christmas Appeal will be the recipient of his purchase of £100 worth of toys which will then be distributed to families who are struggling.

Mr Muir said: “I went shopping, card in hand to Stewart Miller in Holywood and released my 'inner child' by choosing a range of toys which I will be dropping off to Bangor Salvation Army for their Christmas Present Appeal.  This annual campaign invites donations of new, unwrapped toys and gifts for children who might not otherwise receive a Christmas present.  A win win situation providing a fantastic opportunity to support our local high street businesses and to help charities provide resources and goods to the most vulnerable in society.  I have found it particularly heart-warming that we have heard from so many local constituents who are planning to use their cards for donation purposes however not everyone will be in this position and it's important that people do so only if they can and that any purchases made are something that a charity needs.

I was delighted to hear that the High Street Voucher Scheme deadline for spending has been extended by two weeks until December 14 which will maximise the benefit not only to individuals but to our local businesses - there's lots of choice whether its retail, hospitality and service sectors or donating to charity but the important message is that everyone spends the full £100 of their Spend Local card.”

Sunday, 7 November 2021

Muir brings coastal bathing concerns to the Assembly

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir made a splash at the Assembly on Tuesday 2 November when he brought concerns about water quality and safety at Coastal Bathing areas across North Down. 

The Alliance representative used an Adjournment debate to highlight the dangers of pollution, the need for regular water quality testing and the importance of both water safety education and enforcement after recent sewage discharges and near misses between swimmers and jet skis. 

Speaking on the matter Mr Muir said: “With coastal bathing and other open water pursuits such as paddle boarding increasingly popular partially as a result of the pandemic which encouraged people to get outdoors, an improved response from government is essential. 

Living in North Down I am acutely aware that the beautiful beaches on my doorstep that not now only used during these Summer months but throughout the year by swimmers, paddle boarders, kayakers and other open water sports enthusiasts. 

On a daily basis in both warm and cold weather many people are now using our coastal waters at many different places. It is therefore vital that any possible risk to the health of swimmers, paddle boarders and others is quickly identified and reported before they choose to take the plunge. The current bathing water quality testing regime is entirely insufficient only taking place only between 1 June – 15 September at a small select number of sites.  Many of the now popular bathing areas around North Down are excluded, such as Brompton and Skippingstone in Bangor and Orlock in Groomsport.    

Worryingly a waste water pumping station located near Helen’s Bay beach has been found to have pumped raw sewage into the sea on a number of occasions over the last number of years but without any warning system in place all bathers are told to do is avoid the water for 48 hours after heavy rainfall. With no system to tell bathers the pumping station had been busy potentially polluting the sea some only find out when it’s too late leaving them to rush home to wash down and at risk of serious health problems. 

Raising further concerns, Mr Muir continued: “Urgent increased investment in the water bathing infrastructure, promoting safety through well-placed visual information, sea awareness and convenient access for all is also required. 

With a lack of regulation around recreation and personal watercrafts, the current risk to swimmers is colossal and I am regularly contacted by constituents who have either witnessed or experienced these near-collisions. Proposed actions by both the Department of Transport in London and Department for Environment at Stormont to both better regulate and provide powers of enforcement for use of personal watercrafts are welcome but can’t come quick enough.” 

Concluding, Mr Muir stated “I feel immensely proud to live in an area of such amazing natural beauty and to observe the trend in individuals and groups making the most of our beaches and open water for their physical and mental health.  Moving forward it is essential government better supports this increasingly popular activity by ensuring regular, wide-reach water-sampling across North Down, good communication of this information to bathers and both increased safety messaging and enforcement to ensure everyone has an enjoyable, but more importantly safe visit to our beautiful coastal areas."

Muir pleased damaged Abbey Street crash barriers to be fixed, at last

Alliance MLA for North Down, Andrew Muir recently submitted a question to the  Minister for Infrastructure regarding the repair of significant damage to the crash barriers at the entrance to Bangor Park and Ride carpark in Abbey Street. 

The Alliance Party Infrastructure Spokesperson said: "Following an extended period of damage to this crash barrier, I submitted a formal Assembly question to the Minister as to when this will be repaired. People are rightly fed up seeing this and other barriers left damaged for what seems like an eternity. 

These barriers were installed as part of works to spruce up Bangor Town Centre a number of years ago and are more ornate than the standard guardrails.   

I am glad the Minister is now able to confirm that a contractor has been instructed to fabricate a matching guardrail and should be in place by the end of November 2021. A case perhaps of better late than never with action still required tackle many other reported and long awaited repairs around rest of North Down"

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Muir slams North Down Roads Report

Andrew Muir MLA at Spencer Street, Holywood

North Down Alliance MLA and Party Infrastructure spokesperson Andrew Muir has voiced his profound disappointment the Department for Infrastructure have failed to grasp opportunity to tackle massive backlog of roads re-surfacing in the North Down area.

Andrew Muir MLA said: "The Department for Infrastructure submitted their annual budget and plan to Council on 12 October which details work carried out last year and sets out the upcoming works for the financial year 2021/2022. It is unacceptable that we have just had sight of this, six months into the financial year. My office is contacted daily by constituents who have watched on, year after year, as the state of our roads and footways continue to fall into a further state of disrepair after years of neglect. We need to get the basics right and this begins with a road network that’s fit for purpose.

The Department needs to buck up its ideas after failing to bid for more monies this year and handing back £1 million in the last year as a result of a lamentable failure to spend on road resurfacing projects hitting North Down hard. Just because procurement issues exist in some other Council areas is no excuse for the failure to get cracking on sorting roads and pavements across North Down, if anything more works ought to be occurring whilst works suspended elsewhere. 

I find it incredulous that some essential works in the North Down area have not been included in this current plan. A few urgent works I have been requesting over the last couple of years include, but not limited to: re-surfacing on Patton’s Lane in Holywood where I am only too aware of people falling and injuring themselves in recent months. Add to this Spencer Street in Holywood, Groomsport Road in Bangor, a pedestrian crossing request on the Rathgael Road near Lynn Hall development in Bangor and so many more. The pace and scale of delivery by the Department for Infrastructure is simply not good enough, real change is needed to give North Down good quality, safe roads and pavements. 

Concluding, Andrew Muir MLA stated “I do however welcome the good news that within the plan we will see essential resurfacing work take place on Holywood High Street and Kinnegar Drive, Holywood, two areas I have long been campaigning for action on. The Department said these works were still in the design phase and timeframes have yet to be completed, I will check back on progress around this in the coming months as someone determined to see the works done, without delay.”

 

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Muir concerned Craigowen Lodge now an anti social behaviour hot spot

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has raised concerns over littering and anti-social behaviour issues at historic Craigowen Lodge which is situated right beside the busy A2 Bangor to Belfast Road. 

The historic lodge has been left in a dilapidated state for many years with a tin roof now in place after a fire arising from an earlier arson attempt. The building is presently owned by Clanmill Housing Association after merger of Hearth Housing Association and Clanmil in December 2016. 

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated, “I received a number of concerning reports from local residents that the land around the Lodge has now become a drinking den left littered with bottles and other paraphernalia. With access relatively easy and boundary walls in disrepair the litter and general disturbance is a threat to wildlife and the local environment and must be tackled without delay. 

I have reported the range of issues both to the Housing Association who own the Lodge and local Police who have assured me that the local Neighbourhood Policing Team have been alerted. These issues demonstrate yet again the risks of leaving properties to decay and develop into hot spots for bad behaviour. I sincerely hope that works to restore the Lodge progress at pace in order to ensure that both the buildng and site is swiftly restored to its former glory.”


Muir and Egan welcome 20mph Schemes for North Down Schools

North Down Alliance representatives Andrew Muir MLA and Councillor Connie Egan have welcomed announcement from the Department of Infrastructure a number of local schools will now receive 20mph part-time speed limit schemes. 

Rathmore Primary School, Bangor, St Malachy's Primary School, Bangor, Donaghadee Primary School, Millisle Primary School, Clandeboye Primary School, Bangor, Priory Integrated College, Holywood, St Patrick's Primary School, Holywood, Sullivan Upper Prep, Holywood (one site, covering 3 schools above) will all receive the speed limit reductions. 

Commenting on the development, Andrew Muir MLA stated “After lots of campaigning by many people, including Schools, Councillor Egan and I, it’s great news a number of North Down Schools will receive these schemes at long last. The tenacity and determination of so many to get schemes is to be commended. North Down was overlooked in the first roll-out to much legitimate annoyance but thankfully progress is now on the horizon. 

I would urge the Department to both swiftly roll these schemes out and urgently consider requests for a third roll out including the numerous schools still in need of temporary 20mph restrictions. Many Principals, teachers and parents have continued to contact me urging that  the Department for Infrastructure rolls the 20mph scheme to their school. Such key road safety measure should really be the norm!” 

Councillor Connie Egan also commented “After campaigning for action, including at Clandeboye Primary School last year, it’s fantastic to see progress with positive announcement now forthcoming. The safety of everyone using our roads, especially those attending school, must be of paramount concern. Those still overlooked must not be forgotten and included in a much needed third round of roll out to ensure every school who wants such a scheme gets it”.

Muir raises A2 safety concerns

Alliance North Down MLA Andrew Muir has raised safety concerns arising from the atrocious nature of the footpath along the A2 Bangor to Belfast Road. 

The overhanging trees and bushes, particularly between Seahill and Whinney Hill, obstruct a significant portion of the footpath alongside the Belfast-bound A2.  The path is frequently used by pedestrians and, due to the lack of safe, segregated infrastructure, cyclists. It runs alongside the busy A2 which has a 50mph speed limit. Mr Muir raised the issue with Department for Infrastructure and local council last year, and has since re-raised it as no action was taken. 

Mr Muir said “It is really disappointing that since I originally contacted the responsible authorities about the issue, access along this stretch of pavement has continued to deteriorate.  This presents a serious danger to the safety of people using the footpath, and those responsible must treat it with the seriousness it deserves”. 

“This stretch of the A2 is one of the busiest roads in the whole county, with cars and HGVs flying past at up to 50mph. For that reason, it needs to be totally clear of obstructing trees and bushes.  Furthermore, in the autumn and winter, this path is frequently covered in leaves, increasing the issue of someone slipping  onto the busy road.” 

“I want the department and the council to work with the relevant landowners and act on this urgently.  I dread to think what could happen if someone accidentally falls or slips due to the poor condition of the footpath.  The authorities must do everything they can to prevent this from happening”

Muir disappointed over Department’s Resurfacing Refusal

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has stated his disbelief over the Department for Infrastructure's refusal to resurface the roads and footways along Spencer Street in Holywood. The busy street has been in poor repair for years and a heavy volume of traffic has left more recent repair work in tatters.

Commenting on the issue Mr Muir said "I raised this with the Department back in 2019 and the request was refused but I was more hopeful that we would get a more positive response this time around given the shocking state of the surfaces along this stretch. Holywood Primary School is at the top of the street and this generates a huge amount of traffic with parents picking up and dropping of their children, large HGV lorries also go up and down the narrow street putting even further pressure on the already crumbling road surface."

"I was shocked to receive a response stating that although Spencer Street is on the Department's to-do list it is not on the current works programme meaning it is unlikely to be carried out this financial year. Following this response I went back to the Department to ask them if they could provide information on when the street was last resurfaced and statistics on recent traffic intensity. I was bemused when they came back to say that they do not hold historic records of when roads were resurfaced or any recent traffic counts for this stretch of road. I have tabled a formal question to the Minister for Infrastructure in light of this to ascertain what, if any records her Department holds in relation to historical road maintenance and resurfacing. It is impossible for the Department to efficiently keep on top of routine road maintenance without accurate records on when work was last completed and I eagerly await the Minister's response."

"As so many people are aware there is a huge backlog of similar works to be carried out across North Down. I have consistently called on the Infrastructure Minister to prioritise funding and delivery of road resurfacing projects. We need to get the basics right in the first instance and this involves delivering safe usable roads and footpaths for everyone."

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Muir launches public petition for rapidly improved Electric Vehicle charging

Alliance Party Infrastructure spokesperson Andrew Muir MLA has launched a public petition calling for the Minister for Infrastructure to rapidly improve the Electric Vehicle (EV) charging networking in Northern Ireland. 


The online petition, launched on Tuesday morning, notes that while Northern Ireland’s EV charging network was world-leading when it was established back in 2010, a decade of decay and under-investment have seen it fall to being the worst network of any region in the UK and Ireland.  The petition calls on the Minister for Infrastructure to set out a comprehensive and detailed strategy for the rapid improvement of the public EV charging network, and will be presented to the Minister when the Northern Ireland Assembly returns from recess in September. 

Mr Muir said “Northern Ireland’s EV charging network is a shambles.  At a time when we need to be encouraging people to switch to EVs to tackle the climate emergency, the awful state of our current charging network means that people who previously had bought an EV are considering switching back to petrol or diesel cars.” 

“I speak to constituents in North Down all the time who would like to switch to an EV, but worry that they won’t be able to charge their vehicles when they need to.  For those who regularly take long journeys for work or to see family, the lack of a reliable charging network across Northern Ireland is the major issue.  For those without a driveway, the lack of on-street or at work charge points makes EV ownership almost impossible. In addition to the charging network, the Alliance Party’s Green New Deal has called for interest free loans which could be used on top of existing grants to encourage people to go electric.” 

“The Department for Infrastructure cannot wash its hands of this issue, and there has been a real lack of progress since the Assembly was restored in January 2020.  The Minister urgently needs to bring forward and comprehensive and detailed strategy that will bring the public and the private sector to work together to build a fit-for-purpose, on-street EV charging network.  This petition will send a strong statement to the Minister, and I urge people to sign it.”

Link to public petition on Electric Vehicles: chng.it/Fv9NLWMZ

Friday, 6 August 2021

Muir welcomes progress on Bangor South Urban Greenway

Alliance North Down MLA Andrew Muir has welcomed a commitment from the Minister for Infrastructure to consider options for a new urban greenway in Bangor. 

Mr Muir wrote to the Minister for Infrastructure asking her department to formally consider three potential routes for a Greenway that would connect Bangor Town Centre and both the new Greenway due to run from Newtownards plus the new site for Bangor Integrated Primary School on the Balloo Road.  The Minister confirmed that her department were working with Ards and North Down Council to consider a number of schemes in the area, and that once that work had been completed she would provide firm commitments on specific proposals. 

Mr Muir said “I have been lobbying to ensure a proper cycling route is established from Balloo Road area to Bangor Town Centre, particularly important to ensure staff, pupils and parents of Bangor Integrated Primary School have a safe and accessible route to walk or cycle from Bangor Town Centre to their new site on the Balloo Road.  As part of that work, I’ve been engaging with local parents, teachers, and councillors to identify three potential routes that the proposed greenway could take”. 

“It is welcome to hear that the Department for Infrastructure and officials at Ards and North Down Council are actively working together on this.  I will continue to press the Minister to bring forward firm commitments as soon as possible, so that work can be completed prior to the opening of the new school site in 2024.”.

“The new urban greenway would also compliment the council’s plans to create a greenway between Newtownards and Conlig. The Greenway is due to terminate in the Green Road area of Conlig and would be real success if a direct dedicated route was provided into the town centre, opening up access to more Bangor residents and encouraging visitors to come visit our wonderful town”

Thursday, 10 June 2021

Muir speaks out against Conversion Therapy

Alliance MLA for North Down Andrew Muir has spoken out in favour of a ban on Conversion Therapy in a Northern Ireland Assembly debate on Tuesday 20 April 2021. 

Mr Muir served as the first openly gay Mayor in Northern Ireland in 2013/14, and is one of only two openly gay MLAs at Stormont.  In the debate on Tuesday, Mr Muir spoke passionately about the deeply damaging impact that conversion therapy has had with some of his own LGBT friends taking their lives due to the deep rooted and endemic homophobia in society. 

Speaking after the debate, Mr Muir said “So called “Conversion Therapy” is an extremely harmful practice that can cause lasting psychological damage to those who go through it.  Today, the Assembly sent out a clear message: being LGBT is not something that can be “cured”.  There is nothing wrong with being LGBT, and we should celebrate people for who we are rather than trying to change them”. 

“Following today’s debate, the Minister for Communities needs to act and bring forward legislation that effectively outlaws conversion therapy in Northern Ireland.  It has been over a year since the Assembly was restored.  With a year or less until the next Assembly election, the Minister urgently needs to bring forward this overdue legislation”.

Note to editors – Hansard of debate below, photo of Andrew Muir MLA speaking in debate attached.

Mr Muir: To start, I thank Doug and John for tabling today's motion. I know them as allies of the LGBT community, alongside others in the Chamber such as Carál Ní Chuilín, whom I have known for many years and who supported me when I was much younger and less grey-haired as an LGBT activist. I really appreciate them tabling today's motion, and I appreciate the work that so many have done, including my colleague Paula Bradshaw. I also thank, in particular, those who have been involved in a very successful, professional and well-organised campaign. I am impressed by the work that has been done. I speak as an Alliance Party MLA on behalf of the party. I am conscious of the need for a respectful debate, because people are watching, and the way that the debate plays out has impacts.

On Saturday, I was sorting out the books in my study, having got new shelves from a well-known furniture retailer. I found one of my books — 'Boy Erased' — which was given to me as a gift by one of my best friends, who was able to come to terms with his sexuality and with his friends and family in relation to that. I strongly recommend the book in relation to today's debate. Alongside the book, I found a postcard that was given to me in the late 1990s when I was at university in Derry. Things have moved on somewhat from then. At the top, it says, "Lesbians and gay men are". Well, we have moved on to be more inclusive than that, as the LGBT community. The postcard says that they are our daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents, uncles, aunts, in-laws, carers, cared-for, friends, work colleagues, customers and service users. That is whom we are talking about today. The issue that we are debating has a significant impact on so many people: not just my LGBT brothers and sisters but their wider families, friends and work colleagues.

I am very fortunate to have had a very inclusive upbringing, a very supportive family and a mother who is probably more liberal than I am, but I am conscious of those who have not and of the impact of this debate on them, particularly the DUP amendment tabled on Friday. That amendment has caused hurt and offence, and people have contacted me saying that they have been re-traumatised by it, particularly the desire to remove the wording about a "fix or cure". I really regret that that has happened. 

Ms Armstrong: I thank the Member for giving way. Does the Member agree that it has been heartbreaking to hear, over the last week or so, from people who have been so traumatised by the amendment? It has traumatised a vast part of the community, which did not expect this to happen. 

Mr Speaker: The Member has an extra minute. 

Mr Muir: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I agree with Ms Armstrong. All the amendment does is harm. The DUP needs to recognise that it is on the wrong side of history on this. The debate that we have had in recent days about the amendment has shown that society has moved on quite a lot. The idea that a ban on conversion therapy can be an attack on religious freedom is building a straw man. Any legislation that is passed by this place would have to be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights, especially article 9. I am used to these straw men being built, especially in relation to equal marriage. We were told that the sky would fall in if we legislated for equal marriage. The reality is that people are a bit more equal and are happier in love. The sky has not fallen in. 

For me, when we are debating conversion therapy, it touches the core of what is deep-rooted homophobia in our society. There is an idea that sexuality is a choice and a lifestyle. I chose to wear a bow tie today. That is a lifestyle choice; my sexuality is not. It also goes to the core of deep-rooted transphobia in our society. The reality is that it is perfectly good and normal for one man to love another man, for one woman to love another woman or for someone to fulfil their gender identity. The failure to recognise and accept that shows why we need an effective ban. We need that ban. This must not be symbolic legislation. That would be an insult and would allow the harm to continue. 

A definition of conversion therapy is essential to allow that effective ban, and the Ban Conversion Therapy coalition of LGBT+ organisations has provided a recommended legal definition, which is about actions to encourage someone to erase, repress or change their sexuality or gender identity. Asking someone to repress, for example, their sexual orientation is deeply harmful. I know people to whom it has happened. I know people who suffered from the homophobia and transphobia in our society to such an extent that they took their life. We have a responsibility in this place to ensure that an effective ban is brought forward. Yes, it must be done through co-production and co-design with the LGBT community, but this Assembly mandate must end with an effective ban.

Muir speaks in support of Climate Change Bill

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has spoken in the Assembly in support of the Climate Change Bill presented by all parties other than the DUP. 

 Photo of Andrew Muir MLA during debate on 10 May 2021

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “This bill is long overdue. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that does not have its own Xlimate Change Act. This has consequences.  In the decade from 2008, when Westminster passed the Climate Chance Act, emissions in the rest of the UK have fallen by more than 20%.  In Northern Ireland they have fallen by less than 10%. 

I am therefore glad to see the Bill presented and able now to pass to further stages for scrutinity, refinement and finalisation. Whilst I welcome the fact it was passed to progress to the next stage by a margin of 58 to 29 it’s disappointing the Ulster Unionist Party are now split and no longer fully backing the bill with two MLAs voting to stop the Bill.” 

Speaking on issues related to the Bill, Andrew Muir MLA stated the following in the Assembly Chamber “In the past decade, we have improved our public transport network immeasurably and delivered better-quality services and customer experiences, but there is still not enough progress in generating a modal shift from cars to Active Travel and Public Transport. Last year, the Minister for Infrastructure, with the best of intentions, no doubt, pledged to seize the opportunity for a green recovery from COVID-19, yet, more than a year later, we find ourselves deeply frustrated at the pace of change. 

Active Travel made up 2.5% of the Department for Infrastructure's Capital Budget for last year. For every one person who works in DFI's Transport policy division, which includes Active Travel, more than 40 work in DFI Roads. The actions required include the rapid roll-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the current set-up is a shambles, and the Department for Infrastructure's budget needs to be rebalanced to fund Active Travel properly and to review Concessionary Fares in order to get more young people using our rapidly decarbonised public transport network. Last month, the Alliance Party published its Green New Deal. It sets out many other measures that we need to take to meet the requirements in the Bill.”

Minister must act to ensure Utility Companies fix Pavements & Roads following works

Alliance North Down MLA Andrew Muir has raised the issue of Utility Companies failing to reinstate roads and footpaths to an adequate standard during a meeting of the Infrastructure Committee at Stormont last week (Wednesday 26 may 2021) with current situation described as a ‘dog’s dinner’.

Works on Chippendale Vale, Bangor

Commenting on the issue Mr Muir said “I continue to receive a huge amount of complaints from residents all over North Down reporting that roads and footpaths outside their homes have been left as a botched patchwork of tarmac following works by utilities companies. I appreciate that this work is vital in providing basic services to many homes but the standard of re-instatements is often woeful. 

Correspondence I recently received from the Department outlined that Utility companies have a legal right to place and maintain their services in the footway and carriageway but have to adhere to a certain standard of re-instatement when doing so. When footpaths already have a number of cracked and broken flags the use of bitumen is permitted but this should only be allowed if the area is imminently due for resurfacing works by the Department.

 

In some cases works are done to newly resurfaced roads or footpaths which seems completely madness.  Better communication and co-ordination between the Utilities companies and the Department for Infrastructure is essential alongside much higher standard of work. It’s clear there needs to be a tightening of the procedures and standards for the work completed as well as a higher level of follow up inspections and enforcement around this from the Department. The current situation is best described as dog’s dinner! The Committee unanimously agreed to write to the Infrastructure Minister around this and I will be following up on her response once received.”

Double Yellow lines needed for Crawfordsburn Main Street following Resurfacing Works

A request for yellow line re-instatement has been made to the Department for Infrastructure following recent remedial works to the road surface and footpaths at the entrance to the Crawfordsburn Brow Development on Crawfordsburn Main Street. 

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir said “After chasing the Developer for over a year to request works be completed to the road and footways at the entrance to Crawfordsburn Brow Development I was glad to see new surfaces had been put down at the beginning of April this year. Full re-surfacing of Main Street is however now required to properly seam the development into Main Street.   

We will have to wait and see if these latest works stand the test of time but in the interim I have requested the re-instatement of double yellow lines along this stretch of the road at the top of the Main Street. It is a busy through road and had previously had double yellow lines on both sides of the road. 

Now there are pavements and curbs at the entrance to the Development cars have been parking along this stretch and causing obstructions. It’s vital the lines are re-instated to prevent problem parking here or even an accident from occurring with vehicles coming round the bend at speed. I will be following up my request with the Department to ensure action is taken promptly.”

Alliance urges swift repairs to Wandsworth Road Pavements

Local Alliance representatives have urged that works be swiftly carried out to repair pavements on Wandsworth Road area of Bangor following complaints from residents over the shoddy state of reinstatement.

Commenting on the issue North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir said “As you can see from the pictures the pavements have been left in a complete mess. It’s entirely reasonable to expect contractors to return areas to good standard following works and this the lack of proper re-instatement seems to be happening time and time again. 

Whilst my office has received confirmation that the footway reinstatement is a temporary measure and that the local roads section office will be carrying out a full width footway replacement scheme very soon this needs to occur without delay and include all areas including Roseville Park and Avenue.”

Bangor West Councillor Scott Wilson added “We were contacted by several local residents concerned over the state of the pavements and I welcome confirmation from local Roads Division that these are due for completion hopefully in the next few months but urge that all affected areas are covered not just Wandsworth. We will check back to ensure this has been carried out in the envisaged time frame.”

Local Alliance Councillor Connie Egan said “Following a deluge of complaints around the pavements in this area it’s essential the Department for Infrastructure take urgent action to restore the area to a much better state than the present battlefield pedestrians are forced to tackle."

Urgent clarity needed from Council over McCutcheon’s Lane Right of Way

Local Alliance Representatives and residents have called for Ards and North Down Borough Council to clarify whether McCutcheon's Lane, which runs between Ballymiscaw Road and Whinney Hill in Craigantlet, has been asserted as a Right of Way.

Commenting on the issue North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir said "We were contacted around this issue last year by residents concerned following the erection of gates blocking the path between Ballymiscaw Road and Whinney Hill. This lane is known locally as McCutcheon's Lane or "Pig Lane" and has been enjoyed by local walkers and Horse riders for decades.

Public Rights of Way are public highways that are legally protected in the same way as roads which means any member of the public can use them as a right - not a privilege granted by the landowner. These exist as a permanent legal entity and remain in existence unless and until the path is extinguished or diverted by due legal process.

We have been seeking confirmation from the Council that the Lane had been asserted officially as a Right of Way in order that access could be reinstated. Previous correspondence from the Council in 2010 seemingly confirmed that the path in question had in fact been asserted but now it appears they don't have or cannot find the corresponding records meaning an investigation file may have to be opened and the whole process started again.

It is worrying that records are not being kept and raises questions over how many of our Rights of Way may be under threat. It is the Council's responsibility to assert, protect and keep open any public Rights of Way and ensure maps and records are sufficiently preserved. We would welcome confirmation from the Council as to what the current status of the investigation is."

Karen Stewart Gay is a local resident and Rights of Way Officer for The Ulster Rural Riders Association and commented "McCutcheon's Lane has been used by Riders and walkers for at least fifty years or more. I first rode along it when I was twelve. It was one of the first rights of way to be asserted by the Ulster Rural Riders. This organisation was formed in 1988 to protect rights of way and to retain safe places for Riders and walkers. As there are not any bridle ways in N. Ireland it is vital that our ancient rights of way are not lost. It is within the Council's remit to ensure access to these is not inhibited."

Helen McFarland, a solicitor living in the area added "As a local walker and horse rider, I have been using this lane for many years and always understood it was a right of way between Creighton's Green Road and Ballymiscaw Road. It's most disappointing to have access denied recently by locked gates across the path."

Holywood and Clandeboye Alliance Councillor Gillian Greer said "Given North Down is so rich in natural beauty there is a popular culture of walking and horse riding meaning these Rights of Way are particularly important to local life here. Whilst I recognise that record keeping has changed over the years and Covid-19 restrictions have had an impact on staff attending the workplace, I would welcome confirmation from the Council that they have clear procedures and record keeping systems established to ensure our Rights of Way are being protected."

Muir urges public to report pungent pongs at Kinnegar

North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has urged local people to report regularly occurring malodours in the Kinnegar area to the Council after they offered to issue and review log sheets in efforts to establish the root cause. 

Commenting on the issue, Andrew Muir MLA stated “I have been campaigning for many years to eliminate the awful malodours emanating from the Kinnegar Lagoons and thought we had solved the problem when I secured £4.5million investment in the Waste Water Treatment Works. These works helped enormously by ending the scandalous practice whereby raw sewage was pumped into the Kinnegar Lagoons. The pong has however sadly returned with malodours again wafting through the air”. 

Continuing Andrew Muir MLA remarked “Engagement with both NI Water and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has not unfortunately located the source of the stench despite my repeated engagement with these bodies and extensive research by both. Whilst these efforts may have drawn a blank I am still determined to secure a resolution to the issue and made contact with Ards and North Down Borough Council”. 

Concluding, Andrew Muir MLA stated “I am thankful to the Council for offering to issue and review log sheets to establish how often and when the odours occur in order to hopefully eliminate the nuisance and would urge local residents to get in contact with Environmental Health so we can end the pungent pongs which continue to pervade the area”

Time to get a move on with special events on roads review, says Muir

Alliance Infrastructure spokesperson and North Down MLA Andrew Muir has criticised the Department for Infrastructure’s failure to respond to the review of special events on roads legislation prior to COVID-19 restrictions being eased. 

The Assembly passed legislation in 2017 giving local authorities the power to approve the closure of roads for holding special events such as sport races. However, after criticism of the legislation, the Department agreed to a review which closed in September, having received over 800 responses. In spite of multiple questions from Mr Muir, the Department’s official response is yet to be released. 

“It’s not good enough just as restrictions are finally easing, we still have bad legislation in place that will make such events harder to organise,” he said. 

“The Department has had more than six months to formulate a response to the consultation. I urge the Minister to bring forward that response at the earliest opportunity. This legislation resulted in cancellation of numerous community running races and other fundraising events locally prior to the pandemic and needs changed.” 

“Hopefully in the not too distant future, we will be in a position in Northern Ireland to host outdoor sporting events that are popular with local communities and promote an active lifestyle. After more than a year of living under restrictions, there is a lot of interest in such events. We need to have legislation in place making these events easier, not harder, to facilitate"

Alliance meets Infrastructure Minister on Sydenham Greenway and Park and Ride plans

A group of Alliance Councillors and MLAs met with the Minister for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon MLA on Wednesday 24 March 2021 to discuss the recently announced plans regarding the proposed Tillysburn Park and Ride and the Sydenham Greenway. 

The meeting was attended by a selection of representatives from East Belfast and North Down, including East Belfast MLA Chris Lyttle, North Down MLA Andrew Muir, Holywood and Clandeboye Councillors Gillian Greer and Martin McRandal plus East Belfast Councillors Ross McMullan and Sian Mulholland.  

The representatives raised concerns regarding the impact on traffic and road safety at the proposed Tillysburn site especially in terms of entrance and exit but welcomed news on planned entrance from the A2 Sydenham Bypass City bound lane.  

With regards to the Sydenham Greenway, representatives called for the new cycling infrastructure to be fully segregated, and off-road to the greatest extent possible.  The Minister agreed that there should be further consultation with stakeholders prior to the proposed schemes being developed. 

Commenting on the engagement, Chris Lyttle MLA stated “With previous plans for a Park and Ride site at Tillysburn attracting lots of feedback and concern about the impact upon an already very busy and hazardous junction it’s important finalised arrangements address these worries ensure safe and efficient entrance and exit. The Greenway linking Victoria Park to Holywood must also be built to a standard that will attract users with segregation and safety a top priority” 

Speaking after the meeting, Andrew Muir MLA said “I’m very grateful to the Minister for attending to engage with local representatives.  Investment in further Park and Rides and Greenways that will serve the people of North Down are very welcome as we look to further facilitate people to choose Active Travel and Public Transport. 

We now need to make sure that the proposed developments are attractive for people to use, and don’t have any negative impacts on the local area. I look forward to seeing the various options proposed for the Greenway and making a full response to ensure its fit for purpose and ideally aligned with those proposed by NI Greenways”.

Alliance Welcomes Confirmation of Plans for Bike Repair Stations

Local Alliance representatives have welcomed confirmation that Bike Repair Stations will be included in upcoming Greenway Plans throughout Ards and North Down.

Alderman Deborah Girvan and Andrew Muir MLA at Bangor Marina, with Bicycle.

 Andrew Muir, Alliance MLA for North Down said “After seeing Bike Repair Stations installed in CS Lewis Square in Belfast back in 2018, Alliance Alderman Deborah Girvan and I put a Motion to Council to consider roll out of Bicycle Repair Stations at key locations across the Borough and I’m pleased to say this secured unanimous support.” 

“Bike repair facilities comprise of a bicycle pump unit and a unit containing a range of eight retractable tools to provide cyclists with a free facility to make adjustments and repairs on the spot. It’s heartening to see cycling on the increase as we move towards more sustainable modes of transport and this investment by the Council will move us up a gear towards being a more Bicycle friendly Borough.”


Bike repair station in CS Lewis Square in Belfast

 Alderman Deborah Girvan commented “I am delighted that the bicycle repair stations are included in the Council's upcoming Greenway Plan. Exact locations are yet to be determined but current plans will see these being installed along the Comber to Newtownards and Newtownards to Green Road Greenways and also on the North Down Coastal Path. We’re blessed with an abundance of natural beauty in the area and we should be doing all we can to encourage people to get out and about and enjoy it.”


Bike repair station in CS Lewis Square in Belfast


Treacherous pavements must be fixed says MLA

Pavements on Cotswold Drive off the Donaghadee Road in Bangor are in a shocking state of repair and must be prioritised for repair local Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has said.

Andrew Muir MLA with local resident Elaine Orwin and Guide Dog Maisie along Cotswold Drive in Bangor

Commenting on the issue the North Down MLA stated “We were contacted around this issue last year by local resident Elaine Orwin who is blind, reporting how difficult the cracked and uneven pavements are to navigate even with the assistance of her Guide Dog Maisie. The risk of tripping on the surfaces is a real danger and having seen for myself how bad the situation was a request was made to the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) to fix these as a matter of priority.” 

After DfI completed their investigation they concluded that the pavements didn’t “meet our current policy regarding intervention levels.” The pavements couldn’t be in much worse condition and while I’m aware there is serious backlog of work needing done in many areas, serious cases like this in Cotswold Drive and other areas around North Down must be prioritised given the risk to the public. I have submitted a further request asking for this work to be completed.” 

Local resident Elaine Orwin added “The pavement at Cotswold Drive is cracked and dangerous. As a blind person it is an obstacle to my independence and freedom of movement.”

 

 

Passage of reservoir legislation matter of life and death, says Muir

The passage of legislation allowing the Infrastructure Minister to deal with a number of reservoirs where urgent interventions are required is a matter of life and death, Alliance MLA Andrew Muir has said. 

The party’s Infrastructure spokesperson was speaking after the Transfers of Functions Bill was approved by MLAs in the Assembly today. It is designed to implement a safety regime for reservoirs across Northern Ireland. Members of the Infrastructure Committee have previously been told a delay in transferring the powers to the Minister meant urgent repairs required at nine reservoirs here could not be implemented. One of those Reservoirs is located within Ards and North Down Borough Council area but cannot be named for security reasons. 

“I am pleased the Executive Office have finally passed this crucially important piece of legislation after years of needless delays,” said Mr Muir. 

“This genuinely is a matter of life and death, and the Executive Office has failed in its duty to people by not bringing it forward earlier. In addition, the inaction has needlessly delayed planning applications across Northern Ireland, at a time where we should be doing everything we can to facilitate new homes, economic growth and jobs.” 

“This is only the first step in ensuring the urgent repairs at the nine reservoirs are implemented. The Infrastructure Minister now has to commence the Reservoirs Act and go through the correct legal procedures before the necessary remedial actions are taken. I urge her to move with the greatest possible speed.” 

Hansard of Andrew Muir MLA’s contribution at NI Assembly on 1 June 2021 below: 

Mr Muir: I speak as the Alliance Party's infrastructure spokesperson and as a member of the Infrastructure Committee. The approval of the motion today is required to correct an omission in the transfer of all the functions of the Rivers Agency from DAERA to the Department for Infrastructure in 2016. The motion also deals with other issues, as other Members have outlined, but I will speak primarily on the reservoirs and infrastructure. 

In the absence of formal powers, the Minister for Infrastructure has been unable to commence the Reservoirs Act, which is required so that the Minister can introduce orders and regulations to implement the reservoir safety regime provided for by the legislation, which is based on industry best practice for the management and maintenance of reservoirs. In summary, therefore, the delay in the transfer of functions has had a material impact on the Minister's ability to implement a regime that is vital for ensuring reservoir safety in Northern Ireland. 

Mr McGrath: I thank the Member for giving way. Will he agree with me that the delay was not helped by a three-year absence of this place, which was brought about by some of the parties that have to rectify some of the problems that we are addressing today? 

Mr Muir: I thank the Member for his intervention. The reason for the delay and why we are standing here today is threefold. The first part is the transfer in 2016. Secondly, these institutions did not sit for three years. We can never allow that to happen again. We failed the people of Northern Ireland by not having these institutions, and that is a serious issue. Thirdly, there was a delay in seeing this motion today. Devolution was restored in January 2020. It is now June 2021, and this motion is before us only now. Let us be clear on the reasons for the delay and also be clear that, by passing this today — hopefully, we will — this is not the finish; this is the commencement of orders. We could be a long way away from the reservoir safety regime being implemented, so this is not good enough. 

As the Department for Infrastructure has estimated, 83,000 people live within the inundation zones of our 179 reservoirs. Furthermore, there are nine reservoirs, which cannot be named for security reasons, where urgent interventions are required to deal with flood risk. I know of one of those, which I will not name today, that requires immediate work. However, without the full commencement of the Reservoirs Act, the Department has not had the power to compel that work to take place. We are still reliant upon goodwill and the attempts to invoke powers years and years after the Act was passed. Officials have confirmed that properties are located near those nine reservoirs, and there would be a risk to life and property if any of those reservoirs were to catastrophically collapse or fail. Even more concerning is the fact that, for security reasons, none of those living within the inundation zones of those nine reservoirs has been informed of the need for urgent interventions. 

In summary, today's transfer of functions is not some mere administrative quirk but an essential step — and it is just that: a step — in addressing an extremely serious issue that has potentially life-or-death consequences in Northern Ireland. The question that needs to be answered, therefore, is why on earth it has taken so long to bring this before the House. This has had a massive impact, particularly upon planning applications, as other Members outlined. I know of a number of planning applications that are now held up because the Assembly did not deliver. That is having an impact upon economic well-being and growth and on the ability to deliver housing. 

We are nearly 18 months into the restoration of power-sharing in Northern Ireland, and it is only now that this matter is being dealt with. Why was this not proceeded with as a matter of urgency, and how can the Executive Office be so relaxed about it? The last time this was discussed, I understood that it was in the Executive Office. There are far too many things stuck in the Executive Office. We have a situation where you cannot even get issues onto the agenda, never mind discussed or agreed. 

People in Northern Ireland have become accustomed to certain aspects of government here moving at a glacial pace. As we have seen with COVID-19, however, when there is an emergency situation, the people of Northern Ireland demand action, and they demand action fast. It seems that, in the matter that we are debating today, the Executive Office and the two main parties that control it have totally failed in that regard. It is by sheer good fortune that no damage has been done as a result of the severe delay in bringing this before the Assembly. 

In conclusion, I will be supporting this today, and I hope that everyone else will, but I expect a full and clear explanation from the Executive Office as to why it has taken 18 months to bring this before us today, given the seriousness of the issue for people living in Northern Ireland.