Northern Ireland


>Seriously earlier this evening this was how we found out which Government departments were being chosen by which party in the Northern Ireland Executive. Though the Official NI Assembly Twitter feed came a number of Tweets.

So there we have it. Via Twitter we were informed that:

  • DUP will informally take Department of Finance and Personel
  • Sinn Féin Department of Education
  • DUP Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment
  • UUP Department of Regional Development
  • Sinn Féin Departmenf of Agriculture and Rural Development
  • SDLP Department of the Environment
  • DUP Department of Social Development
  • Sinn Féin Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
  • DUP Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
  • Alliance Department of Employment and Learning

>One of mine and politicians of all persuasions over the weekend was the sight of Dawn Purvis being eliminated from the count in East Belfast. Last year after the UVF the paramilitary group associated with the Progressive Unionist Party of which she was leader murdered Billy Moffett, she stepped down as leader and resigned from the party. She was a vibrant and feisty member of the Assembly and did a lot of work in highlighting the double and triple jobbing of some of her colleagues. She will be sorely missed.

However, there are now more women in this Assembly that in the last, which had 15. Twelve actually got re-elected and there are eight new faces to join them. That raises the representation of women to 18.5 percent still a long way to go to gender equality. Northern Ireland may be moving out of a warlike status of politics but the combatants are still largely male.

Margaret Ritchie had a appalling performance in the final leaders debate. She really was the sniping old wife at the garden fence with he snide one liners. It wasn’t becoming and may have affected some of the SDLP’s slide. She is better than that and hopefully some of the new in take will show what women can do. Of the women returning both Anna Lo (Alliance) South Belfast, Michelle Gildernew (Sinn Féin) Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Michelle McIlveen (DUP) Strangford all managed to join Ritchie in topping their polls and getting in on the first count. Sinn Féin’s Jennifer McCann (West Belfast) and Martina Anderson (Foyle) along with the DUP’s Arlene Foster (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) were other women returned by reaching their quota on the first round.

They include Brenda Hale the war widow who is now DUP MLA for Lagan Valley who has already said she will fight for war widows’ rights, the DUP’s Paula Bradley who is just completing her term as Mayor of Newtownabbey but now now MLA for East Antrim, the UUP’s women’s officer Sandra Overend was also elected in Mid Ulster and Judith Cochrane of the Alliance Party continuing the party’s success in East Belfast where she joined Chris Lyttle who had replaced Naomi Long as MLA when she was elected to Westminster.

 The other debutantes in the Assembly are DUP’s Pam Lewis (South Antrim), UUP’s Joanne Dobson (Upper Bann), Sinn Féin’s Michaela Boyle (West Tyrone) and Karen McKevitt for the SDLP in (South Down).

Somebody’s put a little tribute together for Dawn, I like it especially as it has a shot of Dawn out with us for the Yes! campaign last Sunday in it.

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In today’s Newsletter UUP leader Tom Elliot tries to defend his outburst in his acceptance speech where he called talked of “the scum of Sinn Féin”. I am producing it in full so I cam fisk it in red.

 My Comment was right um I’ll get unto that later by Tom Elliot UUP

MY remarks at the count in Omagh have attracted a great deal of attention and comment.

The people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone suffered grievously at the hands of the IRA, many of whom were members of Sinn Fein for decades. This is true, there is no denying history.

Whilst we are now in a new era and many people would prefer us to whitewash the past, many of us are not whitewashing the past, what we are doing is attempting to move on the fact is that Sinn Fein as a party does come with some pretty awful baggage. As does the UUP and Elliot himself, he will no doubt still be commemorating a Battle from 1690 all summer. As I stood in that hall yesterday I was subjected to abuse and heckling from the worst type of Sinn Fein’s supporters.

My comments were certainly not directed at broad nationalism, republicanism or indeed Sinn Fein supporters and members in general, as I am aware that a number of their members may not have been involved in terrorism.

However we need to remember that a number of these Sinn Fein members are unrepentant members of the IRA, who have murdered people from this province. Sinn Féin have renounced violence and recent murders. Their political aim is still the same that of a united Ireland. They are now seeking to achieve that through democratic means. Just as in the same way that Elliot’s Unionist Party forebears sought to keep Ireland, and since 1921 Northern Ireland, in the Union. Indeed the Unionist set up a militia the Ulster Volunteers in 1913 to defend the Union by force if necessary. Neither side is without a paramilitary past in Irish conflict history.

My comments may have shocked or caused discomfort to some people, but I have to say that the murder campaign mounted by the IRA, which resulted in over 3,000 deaths, caused a great deal more.

It is amazing that I get severely criticised for these comments, while just two weeks ago at the republican Easter Rising commemorations senior Sinn Fein representatives glorified the IRA terrorist campaign that murdered many Northern Ireland citizens with comments like: “The IRA were not war mongers. They were a revolutionary force….” Was this a dig at his fellow Fermanagh and South Tyrone representative Sean Lynch.

And: “They took up arms in a bid to force the British out of our country. Their sacrifice and selflessness is an inspiration to us all.” I’ll remind Tom that through the summer with a culmination on 12th July he will be celebrating a force from the Netherlands that came over to Ireland to rid the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland of its rightful sovereign, because he worshiped God in a different way.

None of these comments, which are insulting to many within our community, received the same type of adverse publicity or attention. Maybe that is because you are a political leader who is talking about a shared future and this was your acceptance speech on being elected to represent ALL the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Yes! Even those that choose to fly a tricolour.

With regard to the results of the election, the UUP entered it with 16 seats and we have returned with 16 seats. Clearly many media commentators and pundits will be deeply disappointed this morning that their gleeful forecasts of meltdown and wipe-out did not come to pass. I’m not sorry to disappoint them.

The Ulster Unionist Party has been around for over 100 years Should I be pedantic and point out that from 1905 -1920 it was the Irish Unionist Party and Ulster Unionists have learned the ability to take a few knocks and come back from them. Life is not just about setbacks, but how you respond to them.

He then goes on to what a leader should be talking about in his acceptance speech.

We did indeed face setbacks in this election, but we also have some good news. I am obviously deeply sad that Fred Cobain did not manage to hold his seat. He will be sorely missed by the Ulster Unionist assembly team and the ordinary working people of North Belfast for whom he was a tireless worker and advocate.
I also regret the loss of our second seat in East Antrim where Rodney McCune put up a great fight but ultimately lost out to Sinn Fein. My commiserations and best wishes go out to all the defeated Ulster Unionist candidates.

But there is good news too with the addition of five new faces to the UUP assembly team, providing fresh ideas and approaches to complement the tried and trusted performers. Amongst the five new faces are two female MLAs in the form of Jo-Anne Dobson and Sandra Overend. I would also like to congratulate Ross Hussey on regaining a seat for the UUP in West Tyrone and Mike Nesbitt for regaining a second seat in Strangford. We will also benefit from the emergence of new blood in the form of Robin Swann in North Antrim.

It is vital that the next four years will provide a settled position for education in terms of both post-primary transfer and a way forward with an administration body. This is something that would instill much confidence within the public of Northern Ireland.

There also needs to be an immediate slimming down of our government and reduction of the size of the structures.

Finally some thoughts from me.

Tom I consider myself a proud Ulster man. On Saturday I  took great pride in wearing an Ulster county tartan. I’m a true man with roots in the north of Ireland. As one family member only people with viking blood like us could have survived and farmed where the family farmed for centuries. Thing is Tom that tartan was Donegal, the farm was in the frozen north of Malin head, the west facing side. One of my grandparents was born there, three of my great-grand parents, three branches of the family have roots in Donegal. Indeed one member of the family was Grand Master of the Orange Order in St. Johnstown, Donegal.

So yeah they may have been staunch Unionists but the flag of the land of my roots combines the Green of nationalism, the orange of unionism and the white of peace. It is a flag that was meant to symbolise a shared future, much in the same way that Elliot is meant to be leader of a party that is looking for a shared future. He should be one of those who really needs to grow up on the issue of symbols.

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Well okay only 43.87% did

There is nothing more frustrating while spending 15 hours on your feet than seeing friends throwing complaints about the campaign you have given up the last six months of your life for. Well maybe knowing that before one of the three constituencies that you were the agent on site for had declared that the national result was already a disaster.

Some of it was justified and some it ignored the fact that many of us involved in the campaign were fighting for some of the things and failings they mentioned. The eyes and ears on the ground my fellow regional/organisers were pointing stuff out since our first meeting together in November and on every conference call weekly meeting we had since then. There were even times in our monthly meetings in London that we did speak as one against the way things were done. But too often we were astounded about things that weren’t happening or going to be happening or were happening too late.

Personally I’d like to give a big round applause to all the Regional and National Organisers Iestyn in Wales, Neil in Scotland, John, Jamie and Jane in NW and NE England, Yorkshire and Humberside, Richard and Michael in West and East Midlands, the other Stephen in East of England, Deborah, Becky, Jack, Tariq and Jon in London Tim, Ollie and James in the South West, Central and East. Together we knew what we were pressing for to happen, we may have heard the Yes! campaign say no too many times, yet we carried on pushing and sometimes got the answer changed and action taken. I’m sure all of them will carry on leading sucessful campaigns in the future, that group certainly knew what they needed to get done, just was frustrating that many times all those years of experience and knowledge was overlooked.

I’d also like to thank the excellent team that we did have in Northern Ireland, too numerous to mention but especially to Laura and Michael who were with me from the first meeting of the Northern Ireland team and stayed there to the end. Also to the many excellent interns who came through the door at Carnegie Buildings and many of them ended up going unto good jobs in fields they wanted. We may not have turned around years of Ulster saying No, but 43.87% of Northern Ireland did say yes.

To all my new friends in the Alliance, SDLP, Labour Party NI, Greens Party, UKIP, Ulster Unionist Party, Sinn Féin, Socialist Party, Dawn Purvis (sadly no longer and MLA), David McClarty MLA, plus my fellow Lib Dem NI members and many from no party background who said Yes! it has been a pleasure. I look forward to working with many of you on continuing to build a better future for Northern Ireland.

I may take on the specific points raised on a number of blogs over the last few days, but I’m going to calm down from my initial reading of most of them to give them due consideration in a balanced way in the cold light of day.

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In December 1920 the Government of Ireland Act* was first placed before the House of Commons. It made provision for a split in one of the historic provinces of Ireland. The second paragraph stated:

“For the purposes of this Act, Northern Ireland shall consist of the parliamentary counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, and the parliamentary boroughs of Belfast and Londonderry.”

The act was voted through on 3 May 1921 and gained Royal Assent the following day so on the eve of an election to a Northern Irish Assembly we mark the 90th birthday of Northern Ireland, Our Wee Country. Ninety years on we do have Nationalists and Unionists prepared to work together for a shared future. We are looking at a democratic future for all the peoples and communities in Northern Ireland.

Tomorrow between 7am and 10 pm we go to the polls here to elect 108 MLAs, members to all 26 district councils and decide on the referendum on the Alternative Vote.

If you live in Northern Ireland don’t forget to turn up at the Polling Station with your ID.

  • A UK, Irish or EEA driving licence (photographic part)
  • A UK, Irish or EU passport
  • An electoral identity card
  • A Translink Senior SmartPass
  • A Translink 60+ SmartPass
  • A Translink War Disabled SmartPass
  • A Translink Blind Person’s SmartPass

* Repealed in 1999.

>In seven days time the polls will be open!!

Unlike in recent years I am actually having to schedule in a trip to my polling station to cast my vote. Getting a postal vote here in Northern Ireland isn’t quite as universal as it would be in Scotland. I will be presented with three ballot papers, two which for the Assembly and Council I’ve still to work out my lower preferences, seeing as I get to elect six people with each preferences down the list do matter. The other ballot is one I’ve known for months exactly how I’ll be voting.

Of course I’ll be voting Yes! for Alternative Vote by using an X. Some people might think it odd that I’m voting for AV using an X more associated with FPTP but I have voted in AV elections by an X before. While internal elections in the party are decided by preferential voting STV for committee spots and AV for single positions, there are occasions that only two people stand for a position and therefore an X suffices. It’s why when people misrepresent Nick Clegg’s ‘miserable little compromise’ comment they have it all wrong, we are a party that elects people to stand for a particular position by AV.

The miserable compromise came in the time that Gordon Brown tried to over up a smorgasbord of electoral and parliamentary reform, in the dying days of his premiership, when it looked like nothing could help him overcome the Conservatives in the polls and even the Lib Dems were threatening to be higher than Labour.

But there is also a misunderstanding of what are MPs are there to represent. Alex Salmond is once again trying to say that the Additional Member System in Scotland the second vote is there to elect a President First Minister, rather than MSPs to represent the region. The No 2 AV campaign seem to make the same mistake with why we elect our MPs. MPs are elected to best represent the voters in that constituency. Sometimes that does come from one of the two main parties, sometimes that comes from another party or from an independent. Westminster elections do not of themselves elect the Prime Minister only 1 in 650 voters have a say in electing the Prime Minister and even they don’t always sure if they have or some other set of voters elsewhere have done so.

What we have in the UK is a representative democracy. We the people elect our representatives, they in turn vote for or against the Government of the day. What we are doing when we vote for MPs is elect the person we think will represent the needs of our area best. That is what AV will ensure that each voter in all of the constituencies will have, an MP with the backing of 50% of the valid votes.

Over 60% of us say we are willing to vote for more than one candidate, only 18% say they will only vote for one. How many of that 60% have already had to compromise on their opinions to vote to try to keep someone else out rather than for what they truly believe. Research shows that over 23% of us have voted for somebody else. Even that figure is higher than the number who say they only have one preference of who they will vote for.

Voting No in seven days time will restrict you to a signle choice in Westminster elections. More of us want to have that option of expressing our opinion than those who are tied to one particular party. More of us have voted for more than one option in our lives than those who will only ever vote one way. Is it right that they can scare people into thinking that a limit of one option is the way to decide who best represents you. I don’t and most of those who vote don’t.

That’s why I’m saying Yes! next Thursday.

If you are voting in Northern Ireland don’t forget to take along your ID with you.

  • A UK, Irish or EEA driving licence (photographic part)
  • A UK, Irish or EU passport
  • An electoral identity card
  • A Translink Senior SmartPass
  • A Translink 60+ SmartPass
  • A Translink War Disabled SmartPass
  • A Translink Blind Person’s SmartPass

>On Saturday local blogger Ian Parsley commented on the state of posters here for the Northern Irish elections. It really does make some interesting reading for my Scottish, English or Welsh friends and may well warrant a fuller response from myself at a later point. However, one thing he did mention is location, he said:

“I do wonder if there could be limitations on size and perhaps on location.”

From my election campaigns in West Lothian and Endinburgh where I have often been the ‘poster boy’* I can’t believe some of the locations that the LARGE Northern Irish posters can appear on.

In all the Lothian elections I have helped poster in there are three simple rules by which affect the location.

1) Posters are only allowed on lamposts.

2) Posters are not allowed to be on any lampost that bears any other street furniture (i.e. direction and warning signs for traffic or traffic lights)

3) Posters are not allowed on traffic islands or central reservations.

Just locally I have seen some positioning of posters that causes me some concern, and maybe should have done for the poster teams that put them up. But without local by-laws as clear as those above they haven’t thought about the implications of where they have put posters.

The first instance is on some railings outside a local corner shop. Children are liable to run out of this shop and cross the road, sometimes without thinking, yet as you can see there are posters on the railings that would further obscure their actions and distract a driver coming around the bend. From street level in a car travelling towards this behind the barriers is almost totally obscured.

The second is at the end of my road unto a major road. There is a staggered junction and a traffic island between to two to aid pedestrians. However, in the two weeks that the posters have already been up there has been slippage and it is becoming increasingly hard to see through it to any cars coming from the other junction, more so from an SUV type vehicle that often carry children.

Maybe Ian is right that there is a need for a little bit more regulation as to where posters should be allowed, as in the Lothian instructions should be clear enough and meet health and safety concerns. The things is in Northern Ireland there is no restiction as to when they can start going up, many have already been up for weeks and there are still 10 days before polling day. In West Lothian and Edinburgh they cannot be up before 00:01 on the Saturday before polling day and have to be down by the end of the second working day after the result is declared.

* For my Northern Irish readers that doesn’t mean by face has been smiling down from them but I was responsible for their being put up and taken down again.

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