Wednesday 17 July 2013

Time for a Change

This weekend has been another ugly episode in Northern Ireland's recent past. Trouble started at a protest called by the Orange Order, at the decision by the Parades Commission not to allow an Orangemen's march to take place in North Belfast on 12 July.

The protest turned to a riot, with some truly shocking scenes, as police, including reinforcements from GB, tried to enforce the ban. Dozens of police were injured. Nigel Dodds MLA was knocked unconscious. Since that day, there have been clashes between protesters and police every night and not just in the Woodvale Road area.

Matt Baggott, the Chief Constable of PSNI, described the Orange Order's call for a protest as reckless. Although they called for "peaceful protest", it seems extremely unlikely they would not have known violence was a highly likely outcome. The Parades Commission did not make their decision by tossing a coin in the air - they knew the risks and warned us of them.

As with the flags protests earlier in the year, the majority, the peace-loving people of Northern Ireland, watch with deep sadness as their country is torn apart and its image is destroyed yet again, with these pictures of violence being shown in the national and international media. How depressing and yet how seemingly inevitable it has become, for the twelfth July celebrations to descend into anarchy and destruction.

We need to take a step back from here. In 1998 all sides of the Northern Ireland political debate made some sacrifices in order to reach a better future. There were difficult decisions made, but there was an understanding that without these compromises, there would be no peace; the stability that this country so badly needed would never come. Now, we need to remember the lessons we learned in the run-up to the Good Friday agreement. There need to be sacrifices made by the Orange Order. Yes, the traditions are important. But if a peaceful twelfth means sacrificing one or two of the marching routes, this must be a price worth paying.

Friday 5 July 2013

Response to controversial Lisburn City Mayoral Selection

Despite the political progress in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday agreement, unfortunate reminders of the past resurface from time to time.

In the recent selection of Mayor for Lisburn City Council, it was disappointing to see that the main point discussed by our councillors, in essence, was the candidates view on the Northern Ireland border.

We expect the alternative candidate, Cllr Martin, would feel little pride in being considered for Mayor mostly on the basis that he is not a member of the DUP or Sinn Fein! Whilst we hope that councillors can resolve this issue amicably amongst themselves, we would like to offer a few notes of concern.

The first is that most of the pageantry and decoration around Lagan Valley’s towns, especially at this time of year, comes from one side of the community.

Since our retailers depend from trade emanating from the residents in the Republic of Ireland, especially in Sprucefield, surely we want a shared city.

Many residents of Lisburn City Council who live in areas such as Twinbrook and Poleglass feel closer to West Belfast – meaning Lisburn’s retailers lose their trade.

We are in favour of people celebrating their culture peacefully and respectfully. However when added to other recent measures such as renaming Ballymacoss playing fields as the ‘Queen Elizabeth II’ playing fields, huge pageants celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee and the ill-fated attempt to give the Orange Order the Freedom of the City, we have to ask ourselves some serious questions.

Are we doing all we can to make sure that Lisburn is an open and welcoming place for all our citizens? Are we diffusing very real and volatile tensions within our community? Have our councillors been good stewards of our city and worked for the benefit of all our people?

Many loyalists, after the flags protests, expressed disappointment that the people they had elected to represent them had not represented them properly.

Secondly, we are concerned that this Mayoral appointment does not bode well for the proposed merger of Lisburn City and Castlereagh Borough councils. It has already been dubbed a ‘unionist super-council’ by some and indeed it looks likely it will become a DUP held council. Due to the loss of Dunmurry Cross, it looks like a lot of nationalist seats will go too. Will this loss of representation and equilibrium allow the DUP to go ahead virtually unopposed with measures that the public do not support?

When will politics in Lagan Valley join the modern age, leaving single issue disputes behind? The Green Party in Lagan Valley wants to see a truly shared space, where people do not avoid Lisburn due to its reputation. It is time we put our citizens first and supported our local businesses with some positive PR!

Thursday 4 July 2013

BBC Spotlight investigation demonstrates why transparency in NI Politics is essential

In the wake of the BBC Spotlight investigation into Red Sky, NIHE and the involvement of senior DUP politicians, Green MLA Steven Agnew has reiterated his long-standing demands for greater political transparency in Northern Ireland.

“This journalistic expose of the behind the scenes dealings of senior DUP Executive politicians on behalf of a discredited private company raises some very serious questions,” the Green Party Leader said.

“Those questions need to be answered openly and honestly and in a timely way if the public are to have any kind of trust in our political system.

“The Green Party has consistently called for greater transparency regarding the relationship between parties and their corporate and private supporters.

“Every political decision in Northern Ireland is open to questions of undue influence from vested interests - from planning decisions to procurement contracts, the question is always asked was this decision made in the public interest or in the interests of party supporters.

“Given the recent power grab by the DUP in regards to the Planning Bill where OFMDFM will be able to call the shots regarding designated economic zones, complete financial transparency is now essential.

“Quite simply, there can be no democracy without transparency,” Mr Agnew said.

“The Green Party in Northern Ireland does not accept corporate donations and was the first Party to publish its donations online.

“We have been campaigning long and hard to make sure the electorate have the full picture of who pulls the strings with political parties before they give their vote.

“We await with interest Minister McCausland's and First Minister Robinson’s responses to the issues raised in this BBC program.”