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Monthly Archives: July 1998

A LEADING member of the Alliance Party has called on the Government to introduce measures to combat what, she says is, the “alarming increase” of women who live in poverty after retirement.

Councillor Eileen Bell, who is a North Down shadow assembly member, made the claim after an Equal Opportunities Commission report revealed that thousands of retired women across Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom were living in poverty.

The shadow assemblywoman, in welcoming the report, said it was now time for the government to introduce “significant” pension schemes for women working in low-paid and part-time jobs.

And Mrs. Bell, who is the Alliance Party’s spokesperson on women’s issues, said the government should also make moves to incorporate organisations such as the EOC into the equality commission of Northern Ireland.

“I welcome the report from the EOC and I hope it encourages the government to introduce measures to combat this terrible problem,” said the Alliance Party chairperson.

“It is disgraceful that women – just because they are in part-time or low paid jobs – cannot look forward to their retirement. There is no reason why they should be forced to live a life of poverty after working for so long.

“The report released by the EOC underlines the fact that there is an urgent need for the government to incorporate the policies of various equality organisations.

“Reports like the one released by the EOC are a constant reminder of the problems which women face in the latter stages of the 20th century and this must not be allowed to continue.

“I think that now is the time for the government to help retired women who are living in poverty. All women have a democratic right to look forward to their retirement,” added Mrs. Bell.

PLANS by the Eastern Health and Social Services Board to add fluoride to water supplies in Holywood has been described by a Belfast City councillor as a form of “nazism”.

And the Alliance Party’s Danny Dow has said that if the plans get the go-ahead, it will result in a process of “mass medication” for the people of Holywood.

A decision on the proposals will be made on August 11th after EHSSB chiefs meet to discuss the issue at their headquarters in Linenhall Street, Belfast.

But Mr. Dow, who has teamed up with leading members from the National Pure Water Association to highlight the “dangers” of fluoride, believes the plans will be approved.

The Alliance councillor wants the decision to be made by members of the new shadow assembly when it reconvenes in September.

He says the “undemocratic” nature of the board is evident by its decision to make an announcement on the proposal before the next assembly meeting.

“If this decision gets the go-ahead, it will be inflicted upon the people of Holywood who will ultimately have no say in the matter,” explained the Alliance man.

“The decision must be democratic and it must be taken by locally elected representatives – not by members of the board who don’t represent the people of Holywood.

“Even Lord Dubs has said that plans to add fluoride to water supplies should be taken by members of the new assembly.

“Research has shown us the dangers of fluoride in water supplies and I believe that the people of Holywood are also against the plans.

“We will be doing our best to oppose the plans and we will be picketing outside the board’s headquarters on August 11th. They must not be allowed to get away with this proposal and I would be calling on the people of Holywood to give us their full support,” he added.

AS details of the US President’s second visit to Ireland emerged last week, the Deputy Leader of the Alliance Party was preparing to visit one of Mr. Clinton’s favourite states.

For Lisburn councillor Seamus Close, accompanied by fellow councillor Richard Good and South Down Alliance representative Dr. Anne-Marie Cunningham, jetted off to Boston’s Harvard University on July 18 to participate in a week long conference on conflict resolution.

The conference – entitled ‘The New Political Architecture: A Workshop for Leaders from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain’ – was organised by the John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Foundation for Civil Society.

And apart from the attendance of Mr. Close, the Lagan Valley constituency was also represented by Democratic Unionist Party councillor Edwin Poots and the Ulster Democratic Party’s Gary McMichael.

A wide range of issues associated with the conflict in Northern Ireland – which Mr. Close described as “extremely useful” – were discussed at length during a series of workshop sessions, lectures and seminars.

However, although the conference was in “no way” linked to the workings of the new shadow assembly, Mr. Close said it was good to see a “great level of enthusiasm” from the Northern Ireland politicians.

“I think that by moving our politicians away from the political cauldron of Northern Ireland – and into a different political environment – we have the opportunity to recognise each other as human beings,” explained the shadow assemblyman.

“Even though my visit to Harvard was not connected to the workings of the new assembly, it was still good to see so many of our politicians who, I believe, were genuinely interested in what the conference had to offer.

“We met with political activists from around the world and I believe we gained some valuable experiences that we can use in relation to our own situation.

“I was very pleased with the way things went at Harvard and I welcome any attempts to address the issue of conflict resolution in Northern Ireland,” he added.

A LEADING member of the Alliance Party has accused the Orange Order of having “limited credibility” after its refusal to talk to residents groups.

Dr. Philip McGarry – who is the President of the Alliance Party – made the claim after a statement released by the Orange Order confirmed its “unwillingness” to talk to residents groups.

The Alliance man said the Orange Order had “no legitimate reasons” for opposing direct talks with residents groups after its recent meetings with convicted killers during the Drumcree stand-off.

“The Orange Order gives the impression that it refuses to talk to local residents as a matter of fundamental principle,” said Dr. McGarry.

“But this argument has very little credibility as Orange leaders have already met with convicted killer Kenny McClinton and two years ago at Drumcree they were happy to talk with the late Billy Wright of the Loyalist Volunteer Force.

“The Orange Order’s position is further weakened by its persistent breach of law over the last few weeks in refusing to call upon its members to go home and accept the lawful decision of the Parades Commission.

“The fact that the protest at Drumcree was used a base for a gunman to shoot at the security forces, for a nail-bomber to cause injuries (to the great satisfaction of the crowd), and for other violent acts prevents any reasonable person from understanding the Order’s self proclaimed opposition to people because of alleged involvement in violence.

“Given recent events, there is no alternative and no reasons why the Orange Order cannot enter into direct contact with local residents groups who live along contentious parade routes,” added the former Belfast City councillor.

ONE of the Alliance Party’s longest serving councillors has called on parents and families to do all that they can to eradicate sectarianism in Northern Ireland.

And North Down shadow assembly member Eileen Bell – who is the Alliance Party’s chairperson – has also called on community, business and political leaders to follow in their footsteps.

The founder member of the Peace Train organisation and previous cross-community worker believes that the “first steps” in eradicating hatred and division can be taken in the home.

Mrs. Bell said that once the first steps had been taken to eradicating what, she claims is, “the principles of division” – other “influential groups” could then take over from the family.

“After the events of the last few weeks, it is clear that bigotry, sectarianism and hatred are still rife within Northern Ireland,” said the assemblywoman.

“That’s why everyone in this society must do all that they can to eradicate these evils from our society. It is clear that we all have a role to play in abolishing these terrible principles.

“By teaching children to have respect for all traditions at such an early age, we are giving them the chance to look at people as human beings and not just as Catholic or Protestant, Unionist or Nationalist.

“Most people would agree that the sentiments of hate, distrust and suspicion are formulated in the home.

“But all parents must do their best to instruct their children to have respect, tolerance and understanding for all sections of the community. Anything else, and the seeds of hate will continue to grow in this society,” said Mrs. Bell.

The Alliance councillor also urged parents and families to investigate the attempts made by their local business, community and political representatives to eradicate sectarianism.

AFTER repairing damaged traffic lights at the junction of the Glen and Knock Road in East Belfast, the Department of the Environment has been signalled out for praise by a local councillor.

Councillor Patrick Mitchell, who is one of four Alliance Party councillors on Castlereagh Borough Council, described this week’s response by the DoE’s to the broken traffic lights as “swift” and “professional”.

It is understood that the traffic lights, which are situated at one of Belfast’s busiest junctions, were damaged during the violence which flared as a result of the Drumcree stand-off in Portadown.

Mr. Mitchell claims that the traffic lights have been targeted during previous Drumcree related disturbances but added that DoE staff were unable to gain access to the junction as a result of road blockades.

“I would like to praise the DoE for its tremendous response to the damaged traffic lights. They were very efficient and I’m sure the motorists of the area want to thank them for getting the lights up an running again,” he said.

“This is not the first time that traffic lights have been damaged during disturbances related to Drumcree and it is a pity that those who cause the damage do not have to pay for the repairs.

“The lights were installed because of the difficulties experienced by motorists moving from the Glen Road on to the dual carriageway. Deprived of the help of these lights, motorists from the district could easily have been injured or killed.

“It is clear that those who cause the damage to the traffic lights never think of the potentially lethal consequences. It’s about time that these people had more respect for their areas. We must not have a repeat of this destruction in July 1999,” added Mr. Mitchell.

CASTLEREAGH Borough Council is “bigoted”, “backward” and “sectarian”, according to one of its own councillors.

The Alliance Party’s Patrick Mitchell made the claim after the appointments of the council’s six committee chairpersons were announced at a special meeting last Thursday.

Mr. Mitchell is furious that, unlike previous years at the council, there is no “proper” power sharing after the Democratic Unionist Party secured four and the Ulster Unionist Party two of the six committee posts.

The Castlereagh councillor, who wants to see “fair treatment” for minority parties, explained how the Alliance Party had always received one of the chairperson posts.

Mr. Mitchell is now calling on what, he says is, the “Unionist family” on Castlereagh council to allocate one of the six positions to another councillor from one of the smaller parties.

“For several years, in a system of power sharing, the Alliance Party has always held one of the chairperson positions on the council’s committees,” explained the Alliance man.

“But we must realise that there was a new factor in the equation. Due to recent pay rises for councillors, £7,500 is to be divided among the six chairpersons. It is clear that the DUP and UUP members were determined to get their hands on this money.

“When challenged, the DUP members made spurious remarks about the supposedly poor attendance of a former Alliance chairperson. How are we meant to move forward when we have Mereve Chambers attending meetings in her Orange regalia?

“Iris Robinson alleged that our chairperson attended just half of the required meetings. However, this was completely incorrect. For everyone in the council knows that our chairperson attended a perfectly satisfactory six out of ten meetings.

“We have been excluded from the positions of mayor, deputy mayor and on numerous advisory committees. DUP members like to refer to Castlereagh as the premier borough. In reality, it is more like a backward and bigoted borough,” said Councillor Mitchell.

A SUFFICIENT amount of funds from the Government’s £1.4bn cash injection for Northern Ireland should be used to improve health and educational services in East Antrim, a leading member of the Alliance Party said today.

Alderman Stewart Dickson, who is the Alliance Party’s spokesman on health issues, made the call after Wednesday’s announcement of the government’s plans to upgrade Northern Ireland’s health and education sector.

It is understood that the bulk of the money will be targeted at education and health, but funds are also to be made available to improve roads and encourage overall economic growth.

The government hopes to improve the health service by ensuring that by the year 2002, death rates from heart disease and strokes is reduced by 40 per cent. In relation to schooling, the government aims to raise educational standards among primary and secondary school children.

And, in welcoming the proposals, Mr. Dickson said it was essential for the government to recognise that “important decisions” had to be made about the future of health and education in the East Antrim area.

“Any major cash injection for our schools and health service has to be welcomed, but we must make sure that the money is spent wisely,” said the former Mayor of Carrickfergus.

“The reality is that we have to keep our head above the water and we must do all that we can to ensure that some of the funding is allocated to hospitals, schools and health centres in the East Antrim area.

“For instance, I think that there is an urgent need for more staff in hospitals and health centres in the East Antrim area and this must be addressed with the utmost attention.

“I also think it is important for the Government to consult members of the new Assembly on the allocation of funding. It is clear that member of the Assembly will have an important role to play in education and health matters,” he said.

THE Alliance Party’s South Antrim Shadow Assembly member, Mr. David Ford, has said that the organic farming sector on Northern Ireland clearly needs proper support.

Mr. Ford, who is the Alliance spokesperson for agricultural and rural development, echoed the concerns expressed by David Hawthorne of the Sustainable Agricultural Development Group when he said that it was clear that the Organic Aid Scheme in Northern Ireland was a failure.

The South Antrim assemblyman said:

“When I saw the answers to the Parliamentary Questions recently tabled by Lord Alderdice, I found them almost impossible to accept. Over £300,000 spent on organic agriculture by DANI, buy not a penny of that for ordinary farmers.

“The research activities of Greenmount have been closed down and there is no serious work being done in Northern Ireland in contrast to the situation in the Republic.

“On top of this, while there is increasing demand for organic produce, their area of organic production in Northern Ireland has decreased.”

“It is clearly the time for the Organic Aid Scheme to be scrapped and a worthwhile scheme to be introduced. DANI’s efforts must be directed to practical support for farmers, not isolated research projects with limited value on the ground.

“I believe that organic production is one of the niche markets which farmers in Northern Ireland need to exploit to develop their business. It is disgraceful that we have lost opportunities over the last decade.

“This is typical of the issues that the Assembly will have to take up in the future, to show that local agriculture can be among the best in Europe,” added Mr. Ford.

A LOCAL Councillor has hit out at whoever was responsible for the recent spate of violence which flared in the Donegall Pass and Sandy Row areas of South Belfast.

And the Alliance Party’s Tom Ekin, who is a councillor for the Balmoral area of South Belfast, has confirmed that he will be calling on Belfast City Council chiefs to launch a major clean-up operation of the two areas.

The Alliance Councillor also said that Belfast City Council must do “everything in its power” to enhance the image of both areas.

“The apparent celebrations of the Battle of the Somme in the Donegall Pass and Sandy Row areas of South Belfast in recent days can only be viewed with the utmost contempt,” said the Alliance Councillor.

“The thrashing of streets, the wrecking of roads and the destruction in both areas was completely unwarranted.

“Both areas have been destroyed and the negative image being portrayed around the world will undoubtedly have economic implications.

“That’s why I feel that the Council should make moves to address this problem immediately. It is essential that image of both areas is drastically improved.

“We must make sure that the re-generation of both areas is a priority with the Council

“I think a major clean-up operation is one way of addressing this problem and I believe that the residents of both areas would strongly support this plan. The good families of both areas must be allowed to live in peace,” added Mr. Ekin.