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Monthly Archives: October 1997

Peninsula Alderman, Kieran McCarthy has welcomed the Minister for Political Development’s forthright assurances given to Councillors at last week’s meeting with Ards Borough Council members. Even though Mr Paul Murphy is not long in office, he seems to have a real grasp of the problems associated with Northern Ireland, from the underfunding of health and education, to the need for more local involvement in running Northern Ireland’s affairs.

Alderman McCarthy, as the Alliance representative for Strangford constituency at the Castle Buildings talks, has been in regular discussion with Mr Murphy, and said that the Minister’s response to the varied questions put to him set out in clear terms what we all have to do to reach an agreement. Mr Murphy explained that the most important part of the present political discussions is the agreed setting up of a Northern Ireland Assembly, representative of all parties where locally elected people can have responsibility for running the affairs of Northern Ireland.

There also has to be a good constructive and workable arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and the third element of the discussions must be the relationship between Ireland and Britain.

Mr Murphy reiterated once again that the Principle of Consent of the people of Northern Ireland was paramount and it is up to the elected representatives of the people to work together to bring about consensus. If and when that agreement comes about, Mr Murphy and his other ministers and go home, and Northern Irish politicians can exercise their responsibilities by running the affairs of Northern Ireland in a fair and equitable manner.

Alderman McCarthy hoped that all council members will play their part in supporting Mr. Murphy and his colleagues to bring about a resolution of our problems.

EDITORIAL

The Belfast Telegraph recently ran an article on the allocations of positions on Belfast City Council which started with the sentence “A secret deal aimed at ousting Sinn Fein from all Belfast City Council positions for the next four years can be revealed today.” A document showing proposed allocations of Chairmen and Deputy Chairman over the next four years was printed. The article went on to say that the Alliance Party, the Ulster Unionists and the DUP had a secret pact.

The actual facts of the case are somewhat different. The document printed was a proposal emanating from the Ulster Unionists in May 1997, in the immediate aftermath of the Local Government Elections. This of course pre-dated the most recent IRA cease-fire and was produced at a time when the IRA were still involved in a terrorist campaign.

At that time, there were a lot of meetings between various party groups on Belfast City Council to discuss the allocation of posts on the Council. We turned down a Sinn Fein request to meet us and told them that, in the absence of a true and lasting cease-fire, we would not be supporting Sinn Fein for any position within the Council. We have also refused to support the PUP and UDP for any such position.

What the Alliance Group did do at the time was to try to reach agreement with the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists as to the allocation of positions within the Council. This did not prove possible, primarily because the SDLP were not prepared to agree to anything that did not involve Sinn Fein. The Alliance Party were, and still are, committed to ensuring the rotation of senior positions amongst all parties fully committed to the principles of democracy. As part of this commitment, we voted against the Ulster Unionists and the DUP to ensure the election of Alban Maginness as Belfast’s first nationalist Lord Mayor. Indeed, the year before, we supported the election of Alisdair McDonnell as Deputy Mayor, in spite of the opposition of some of his SDLP colleagues.

There was no formalised deal and we did not vote in accordance with the Ulster Unionist proposals on every occasion. Alliance have had no discussions or negotiations on this matter at any time with the DUP.

We are currently living in an evolving situation, with the advent of the second IRA cease-fire and the instigation of a Talks process involving Sinn Fein. The Alliance Party attitude to Sinn Fein is not cast in stone, and indeed it would be our wish that events develop in such a way that Sinn Fein reject their links with the IRA and become a purely democratic Party. At this time, however, I think that it is too early to determine this, and the Alliance Party would need some ‘confidence building measures’ from Sinn Fein to convince us that they have left the Armalite behind for ever, and are wedded to a non-violent future.

Once we feel that this has happened, we would be prepared to support Sinn Fein for positions with Belfast City Council. The timescale for change is difficult to predict at this stage and is more in the hands of Sinn Fein than ourselves.

To conclude, the Alliance Party has not entered into a secret pact with anyone and has not done anything in its dealings in Belfast Council that it has not been publicly advocating for several years.

Mervyn Jones

Leader Alliance Party Group
Belfast City Council

Alliance Party Chief Whip, Alderman Sean Neeson, at the weekend addressed an International Conference in the Romanian capital of Bucharest about the political talks in Northern Ireland. Mr Neeson says, “The Conference was about the enlargement of the European Union and provided an opportunity to brief senior politicians from all over Europe about the importance of reaching a political agreement, especially in relationship to Northern Ireland’s membership of the EU.

“The Conference was successful in that it clarified the problems which will be faced with the enlargement of the EU and clearly serious consideration must be given before applications to join the EU are granted to countries within the former Eastern bloc. Romania is still a country in transition, and major changes have taken place since the abuses of the Ceaucescu family.”

Alliance Leader Lord Alderdice has criticised the administration of the Peace and Reconciliation Urban Regeneration Fund.

Nearly £13 million has been allocated toward Urban Regeneration in Belfast and Derry under the Peace and Reconciliation Programme but it appears that more has been allocated to date.

Lord Alderdice said:

“This money was allocated two years ago, in 1995, yet it appears that not a penny has been spent so far. It is extraordinary.

“The Urban Regeneration Fund was designed to improve the environment in run down urban areas. Dozens of good projects have been submitted. Local communities are getting very frustrated that their determination to improve their local environment is being met with the bureaucracy and lethargy which is delaying the distribution of funds.

“I want to see Making Belfast Work and the DoE release funds immediately, at the very least to some of the better applications.

“Movement is needed to stave off community disillusion, and make proper use of the resources.

“Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if we have the 1997-1999 phase of funding available but hadn’t allocated any of the 1995-1997 phase?”

Alliance Party, Chief Whip, Alderman Sean Neeson, has asked the government to consider Belfast as a permanent home of the Royal Yacht Britannia after she is decommissioned next month. Mr Neeson says, “I made the appeal when I met the Prime Minister on Monday, and did not receive a negative response. Obviously to make such a bid would require significant financial backing, as well as manpower resources. Time is important and it is my intention to contact relevant individuals and organisations in the near future.

“Belfast is the natural location because of the Waterfront Development, and our maritime heritage, and I believe that a vast number of people in Northern Ireland would back this development.”

Alliance Party Chief Whip, Alderman Sean Neeson, claims that the Scottish electricity inter-connector is not in the best interests of the Northern Ireland economy, nor of electricity consumers. Mr Neeson says, “The go-ahead for the interconnector would make the completion of Phase Two of the Kilroot Power Station even more remote. Furthermore, the building of a transformer at Islandmagee will be a major blot on the landscape.

“NIE will not be purchasing electricity from Scottish Power at a cheap rate, and this should be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, along with the other Northern Ireland electricity generators. The development of the interconnector will be as big a blunder as the original sell-off of the power stations here, and this is strongly criticised by the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster.”

Speaking after meeting with the Prime Minister this afternoon, Seamus Close, Deputy Leader of the Alliance Party, said, “The Prime Minister’s visit to Northern Ireland today is a clear demonstration of the government’s determination to move this process forward in a structured and constructive way.

“We stressed the importance of such determination for the vast majority of the citizens of Northern Ireland, who don’t have a particular axe to grind, but who want to see a fair settlement, a settlement that will improve their lives, and the lives of their children.

“We pointed out to the Prime Minister that success in this process is the greatest confidence-building measure available to all of us.”

Note to editors: The Alliance delegation meeting the Prime Minister consisted of Seamus Close (Deputy Leader), Sean Neeson (Chief Whip), Eileen Bell (Party Chair), Steve McBride (Justice and Legal Affairs Spokesperson).

Alliance Party Justice Spokesman, Steve McBride, had called for paramilitary groups to meet directly with the Independent Commission on Decommissioning.

Speaking after a meeting with the Indepenednt Commission at Castle Buildings, Stormont, Cllr McBride said:

“Decommissioning is an imporatant issue. We have to set in motion a process which will make sure that the guns really are silenced forever and which can build confidence in the good faith of those currently holding illegal arms.

“The political parties cannot solve this problem. Those organisations that have weapons have to become directly involved. They – the paramilitary groups – need to be speaking directly to the Commission at the earliest opportunity so that a realistic beginning can be made to a process which is inevitably going to be long and difficult but which must be brought to a successful conclusion.

“The direct engagement of those groups with the Commission will be an important test of their commitment to the process.”

Alliance Leader, Lord Alderdice, speaking this morning before going into a meeting with the new International Arms Decommissioning Body, has criticised the Sinn Fein stance on the Talks.

Lord Alderdice said:

“It is clear that the Sinn Fein leadership does not yet realise the kind of democratic process which they have joined. This process is not about smashing the Union, any more than it is about smashing Sinn Fein, and those politicians who talk all the time about smashing things are only displaying their own destructive credentials. These talks are about building a new future, a new stable, peaceful, democratic future, and the only things which will be smashed are the weapons of mass destruction which have claimed so many lives. It is to constructively negotiate that end that we are meeting this morning with the International Decommissioning Body.”