Alliance spokesman Dr Philip McGarry has described as (a form of intimidation) the leaflets distributed in Craigavon calling on shops and businesses to shut during the Billy Wright Funeral.
Dr McGarry said:
“I can understand entirely why many local business men will feel under pressure to close their premises.
“However many of them will do so because of a fear of the consequences if they remain open.
“The RUC have the duty to ensure that protection is provided for those people who chose to continue about their private business.
“As a society we must always recognize the existence of subtle and not so subtle forms of intimidation and redouble our efforts to create a society free from fear and sectarianism.”
North Down Alliance Councillor, Stephen Farry, has expressed his regret over the decision of the Department of Education to turn Strangford Integrated College for funding for a third time but called for the campaign to continue.
Stephen Farry said:
“This decision by the Department of Education is triply disappointing. First, this is now a school that is now in operation fighting to secure its future. Second, it is somewhat ironic given that the Prime Minister so publicly endorsed integrated education on his recent visit to Northern Ireland. Third, it is a blow coming so close to Christmas.
“Opinion polls show that parents throughout Northern Ireland want the option of integrated education – yet, only 2% of children attend such schools. No integrated school has failed so far.
“The choice of integrated education should be a right for parents. There is no yet sufficient provision in this area. The implication of DENI’s rejection of Strangford is that integrated schools are only going to a privilege in certain areas not the norm.
“The successful opening of Strangford College shows that there is sufficient demand for it in the greater North Down and Ards area, notwithstanding the decision of other local schools to transform to integrated status. The local population is sufficiently diverse; according to the 1991 census is about 70% Protestant, 10% Catholic & 20% others/none/refused.
“The Government will not be able to withstand a public campaign forever. I hope that the campaign does not cease, but in fact intensifies. I myself will do anything I can to help.”
Increasing concern about delays in the funding of the Antrim – Whiteabbey railway line has led the Alliance Party to table two Parliamentary questions.
The questions, tabled by the Party Leader, Lord Alderdice, ask the government to confirm its commitment to the line and question whether EU funding may be lost because of delays in the scheme.
Local Alliance spokesman, Councillor David Ford, said: “I have been pressurising successive government ministers for six or seven years on this issue. It is clear that the massive investment in the cross harbour railway bridge in Belfast will only be fully justified if the trains from Ballymena, Coleraine and Derry use the Bleach Green Line.
“The line would also help solve the growing commuter congestion between Antrim, Ballyclare and Belfast and the development of local services, with a new station at Aldergrove, would be a massive boost to the Antrim, Crumlin and Lisburn area. It would also facilitate the scheme to provide many thousands of jobs at the airport.
“Alliance is concerned at the considerable delays in this scheme. Both Lord Alderdice and I have spoken to people with interests in the railway in recent weeks. That is why he has tabled the questions in parliament. It is important to find out whether the government is prepared to act while EU funds are available.”
Councilllor David Ford, Alliance Spokesman for South Antrim, has described the attitude of Clifford Forsythe MP to the Talks process as ‘regrettable’ and negative’.
David Ford said:
“I was surprised to read the reports of the letter apparently written by Mr Forsythe a couple of weeks ago. Surprised, because he has taken no part at all in the current talks Process since it began under the Chairmanship of Peter Brooke when he was Secretary of State back in 1991.
“It is hard to see why Mr Forsythe is moved to comment at this time, but his negative comments are most regrettable.
“The Talks Process Is a serious one. Difficult decisions have to be taken. There is no doubt that the two Governments are committed to the process.
“Talk of pulling out at this time is playing into the hands of Sinn Fein. Were the Unionists to leave the Talks table, the image of Republicans would undoubtedly be enhanced. Is this what Unionists want?
“Alliance wants to see all parties engaged in serious Talks, seeking to each agreement under the rules of sufficient consensus. That means the more moderate parties on each side coming together with the non-sectarian centre to build a new agreement.
“We do not need extremists posturing from each side.”
South Antrim Alliance Councillor Brian McConnell has welcomed the Northern Ireland Trading Company’s decision to look at alternative sites in relation to the development of a bus terminal, library and commercial facilities in Antrim.
Councillor McConnell praised the decision – which appeared as a public notice advertisement this week – and said that people should be encouraged by the company’s decision to investigate “all avenues” of development.
The Antrim Councillor said: “The question of an alternative site – other than the Ulster Bar site – has to be encouraged. It seems to me that the tone of the advertisement recognises the need to investigate another possible site.
“I am encouraged by the public notice because it doesn’t just concentrate on one area for possible development. It’s also encouraging that the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company is not fixed on just one idea.
“However, I think that the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company will have to discuss the issue with Antrim Borough Council. And I also welcome the announcement of a project briefing session which has been announced for January 6.”
North Down Alliance Councillor, Stephen Farry has condemned the so-called ‘punishment’ attack in the Whitehill Estate on Saturday and described it as a profoundly worrying development.
Stephen Farry said:
“This shooting in Whitehill is a profoundly worrying development. It is notable that it occurred near to the location where various paramilitary groups pasted threatening notices back in September.
“There seems to have been an increase in the number of so-called punishment beatings and shootings in the North Down area during 1997.
“They should be described as ‘so-called’ because the thugs that are responsible for these incidents have no legitimacy nor authority to carry out anything no matter what their victim is alleged to have done.
“There is never any justice involved. The ‘accused’ is entitled to no defence. Thugs act as judge, jury and executioneer. The ‘punishment’ dished out constitutes torture, and would be judged as a breach of human rights in most societies.
“There are clearly many social problems to be tackled in North Down and frustrations are building up. However, the only authorities that can provide solutions are the police, housing executive and social services.”
Commenting upon the six shootings which have taken place over the last two weeks. Alliance Spokesman Dr Philip McGarry has called upon Sinn Fein, the PUP and UDP to clarify their position with regard to the Mitchell Principles.
Dr McGarry said:
“The Mitchell principles state clearly that participants at the Talks must be committed exclusively to democratic means. The reality however is that there has been a recent upsurge in shootings by paramilitary groups as well as a number of serious beatings.
“If these shootings or serious assaults had been carried out by the Army or the RUC their would be vociferous complaints from Sinn Fein, the PUP and the UDP. I call upon these three parties to clarify whether or not they are totally committed to the Mitchell Principles.”
Commenting on todays statement by the Minister of Agriculture , Councillor David Ford, Alliance Spokesperson on Agriculture, said:
“Dr Cunningham’s Christmas present to farmers is nothing but a sick joke – tokenism of the worst sort. It is far too little and far too late to address the problems of farmers in every section of agriculture across the UK.
“Northern Ireland alone needed £12 million on HLCAs. Suckler cow and ewe premiums needed to be significantly increased. Something needed to be done for other farmers – dairy, arable and pig producers – to offset the effects of the green pound.
“It is clear that this Government has no concern whatever for such a vital sector of the economy. Little wonder that the Secretary of State and Lord Dubs were not prepared to meet farmers last Friday at Stormont.”
South Antrim Alliance Councillor David Ford has welcomed a Sustainable New Housing Group claim which refers to the development of land – alongside the ‘Bleach Green Line’ – by Northern Ireland Railways.
Councillor Ford, who is the Alliance Party spokesman on rural development, said the proposal should be welcomed as part of the ‘Bleach Green Line’ planning and development strategy.
Councillor Ford said: “Antrim continues to be designated as a major growth area – especially in relation to the ‘Bleach Green Line’. Any potential development would be of immense importance to the people of Antrim.
“I understand that by purchasing the land, NIR could then sell off the land to developers and allocate the profit to the development of the railway scheme. This could overcome some of the current funding difficulties.
“Although NIR may not wish to act as a land developer, it is important that any future development in the South Antrim area – including Antrim, Crumlin, Templepatrick, Ballyclare and Glengormley – make maximum use of public transport.
“There is a major traffic and commuter problem between our area and Belfast which cannot be solved by roads improvements alone. It is also essential that all types of development are thoroughly investigated.”
Alliance Spokesman Dr Philip McGarry has said that the £2 million cost of Policing at the Harryville Protest is “totally unacceptable”.
“The RUC have made it clear that this massive amount of money means that resources are not available for other policing activities such as the prevention and detection of crime and the drugs problem which is very severe in the Ballymena area.
“This protest is not a legitimate or a reasonable demonstration. It is in fact a crude form of bullying and intimidation and is trying to prevent people from attending their weekly church service.
“The major responsibility rests with senior Unionist Politicians, especially those in the Orange Order, to say and do much more in order to bring an end to this totally unacceptable and anti democratic activity.”