Category Archives: Assembly

Racism has no place in any society

Lunn2017Alliance Justice spokesperson Trevor Lunn has said there is no place for racism in Northern Ireland, or any other society.

Mr Lunn was speaking after the Belfast Jewish Community received a message containing a racist image. Trevor Lunn said: “Members of the Jewish community first came to Northern Ireland around 150 years ago and have made a valuable contribution to our community over that time. Unfortunately, for a range of reasons in recent years there has been a fall in number amongst the Jewish community. That is why this incident involving a racist message must be condemned by all.

“We need to send a clear signal that these racist messages are not acceptable and should not be sent. We also need to send a message of support to the Jewish community that we support and stand with them.”

DUP inaction means new health minister’s inbox already filling up

Trevor Lunn MLA

Trevor Lunn
Lagan Valley

Alliance Assembly candidate for Lagan Valley, Trevor Lunn, has said that because the current DUP health minister has avoided hard decisions, the inbox for the new health minister is already filling up.

Trevor Lunn said: “We have the unacceptable situation in Northern Ireland where our junior doctors have been left not knowing if the health minister is going to impose the new contracts that have led to industrial action in England. Health is a devolved issue, and the administrations in Scotland and Wales have decided not to follow England in penalising this invaluable group of health workers.

“Our current DUP health minister has refused to make a decision, preferring to leave it until after the election for his successor. This inaction is seriously impacting on morale amongst the junior doctors and has the potential to lead to some leaving Northern Ireland for other areas that may value their skills more than here.

“We also have the situation where the Northern Ireland branch of the BMA is calling for funding for GPs to be increased in line with what has been agreed in England. Current funding for GPs in Northern Ireland is about 6% of the health budget, whereas in England it is over 10% of the health budget. If we do not fund GP practices adequately we could have a situation where some practices may have to close. This will disproportionately affect rural areas, where it has proven difficult to replace retiring GPs.

“Last October the health minister set up a working group to look at how patients can be better served by GPs. The report from this group, the Review of GP led Primary Care was published in March, but it has been sitting on a shelf in the minister’s office with no decisions taken. The incoming health minister will have some urgent decisions to take as soon as they step into the office.”

McIntyre: Health Minister must reveal decision on junior doctor contracts

Alliance representatives at the Junior Doctor Rally.

Alliance representatives at the Junior Doctor Rally.

Alliance Councillor Aaron McIntyre has called on the Health Minister to announce his decision on junior doctor contracts, as Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council backed his proposal to write to the Minister, urging an immediate response.

Councillor McIntyre said: “Health is a devolved issue, so there is no reason for our Health Minister to follow the English Health Secretary, who has imposed the unfair and unsafe contracts on the junior doctors.

“Scotland and Wales have already stated they will not impose the new contracts and Alliance is calling on the Health Minister to end the uncertainty and make an announcement as soon as possible.

“Junior Doctors are the cornerstone of our health service and any negative changes to their contracts could have serious implications for staff welfare and the wellbeing of patients. The lack of a decision is already impacting morale among junior doctors.

“With the on-going uncertainty we will continue to see junior doctors vote with their feet, and any further brain drain will only further deepen the crisis within the NHS – especially with news this week that thousands of NHS posts lie vacant across the UK.”

Alliance Assembly member Trevor Lunn added: “Last October, Alliance MLAs wrote to the Health Minister to support the junior doctors. It is now time for a decision to end the uncertainty, which is impacting on morale in our hospitals. We cannot afford to lose any junior doctors to other health services which value them more highly.”

Lunn welcomes tougher penalties for animal cruelty

Alliance Assembly member Trevor Lunn has welcomed the decision of Justice Minister David Ford to increase the penalties on those convicted of animal cruelty.

Trevor Lunn said: “I welcome the swift action of Alliance Justice Minister David Ford in including these new penalties in the Justice Bill currently going through the Assembly. This sends a clear message that anyone convicted of cruelty to defenceless animals could face up to five years in prison.
“There had been a local suggestion to regard theft of pets as animal cruelty, but this is outside the current legislative proposals and would be dealt with as a separate offence.”

Those convicted of animal cruelty can now expect; increased maximum sentences for Crown Court cases raised from 2 years to 5 years, increased maximum sentences for Magistrates’ Court cases raised from 6 months to 12 months, maximum Magistrates’ Court fines increasing from £5000 to £20000.


Smoking ban will protect children says Gawith

Getty Images

Getty Images

Alliance Councillor Owen Gawith, who is a member of the Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council’s Health Working Group, has welcomed the ban on smoking in a car when a child is present.

Councillor Gawith was speaking after the Assembly voted to introduce the ban, which is unlikely to come in before next year. Councillor Gawith said: “This very welcome news goes some way to protect children from the dangers of passive smoking. As it also limits the opportunities for children to see adults smoking, I hope it can reduce the likelihood of children taking up smoking. A similar ban has recently been introduced in England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland and I look forward to its implementation in Northern Ireland.

“Smoking not only has a human cost, in terms of the illnesses directly resulting from it, but also places a huge burden on the health service. I hope that both these bans on smoking will help change the attitudes and habits of smokers, who can access a range of free initiatives to help them quit.”

Lunn supports Special Olympics

imageAlliance Assembly member Trevor Lunn has highlighted the important role the Special Olympics plays in the lives of hundreds of young people across Northern Ireland.

The MLA for Lagan Valley was speaking after attending a Special Olympics bowling event at Lisburn Leisure Park, where he presented medals to participants.

He said: “For many young people, the Special Olympics gives the opportunity to develop skills and participate in sports. Bowling is a lifetime fitness sport which contributes to balance, coordination and motor skills.

“It is a particularly beneficial sport to people with intellectual disabilities, irrespective of their age or sports abilities, since it ensures physical exercise and at the same time participation and social integration.”


Lunn welcomes potential Hillsborough HGV weight limit


Trevor Lunn

Trevor Lunn MLA

Lagan Valley MLA Trevor Lunn has welcomed the potential introduction of an HGV weight limit in Hillsborough.

Alliance representative Mr Lunn was speaking following Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen’s announcement she is to consult on the introduction of a 7.5 tonne weight limit within the conservation area of Hillsborough. The first phase will apply to the stretch of Lisburn Street from the Culcavy Road to the Ballynahinch Road/Main Street junction.

“This would be a good move for Hillsborough,” said Mr Lunn.

“The heavy traffic travelling through the area on a daily basis is a big problem for people there. By introducing a limit, it will not only improve the health and safety for locals but still allow shops and businesses to trade normally.

“In the long-term, I would like to see the entirety of Main Street designated in a similar way to help remove the weight problem entirely.”

O’Dowd’s priorities all wrong – Trevor Lunn opinion piece

Trevor Lunn MLA on a recent visit to Malone College

Trevor Lunn MLA on a recent visit to Malone College

Whist I have some sympathy with the Education Minister’s problems, several recent decisions fly in the face of stated ministerial priorities and obligations.

The decision on Drumragh Integrated College ignores the stated obligation to “facilitate and encourage” integrated education, to allow successful and popular schools to expand and the principle of parental choice.

In the High Court last year, the Department stated that in future, consent of other schools would not be required for a proposal to be granted, area school enrolments should not override the statutory obligation to integrated education, yet this is exactly what the Minister says lies behind his decision.

The education of our children together is a vital component of any shared future agenda, but it appears the Minister still has difficulty accepting this simple premise or honouring his legal duty in this area.

Clintyclay Primary School is trying to make history as the first Catholic maintained school to transform to Integrated status and despite the opposition of CCMS and the Department, Mr Justice Treacy has upheld their judicial review of the Department’s refusal to allow them to do so. Will the Department appeal this decision? I sincerely hope not, but who knows?

Primary school language tuition is regarded worldwide as valuable to children, this has been recognised by the Department by supplementary funding for many years, but now without warning this support has been removed. A vital front line service (these are supposed to be protected) being discontinued to the disadvantage of our kids against those from other countries, and to Northern Irelands long term ability to compete for business.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects are a priority for the Department, to equip our children for their futures in employment and to enable NI PLC to compete for jobs in the world economy. The Ministers response is to cut 50% from the grant to Sentinus who do such valuable and essential work in this field.

Budgetary control is vital to the efficient running of any Department but so is eliminating the costs of a divided society, hence the need to promote integration where parents clearly want it. When budgets are tight the priority must be quality education and the need to equip our children for careers.

By these decisions, the Minister is leaving himself open to the charge of wrong priorities, training too many teachers for too few jobs, Irish Language expansion (which I will support but not at any cost) as well as maintaining segregation.

We await further developments with interest.

Time for Action on Education Reform

Is there any matter which more clearly points up the inability of the Executive to take forward important legislation than the stop-start progress of the bill to establish the Education Skills Authority?

This legislation is meant to provide an administrative body to replace the five Education boards, a measure which by common agreement was badly needed four years ago when it was first announced. However the delay in implementation has created uncertainty that has led to the boards losing key staff in large numbers to the point where despite the sterling efforts of those who remain, the Boards are barely able to fulfil their functions.

Originally ESA, was to be introduced in two stages due to its complexity, by the then Minister Caitriona Ruane. However, due to DUP suspicion that this was a means of getting the first bill through before all the nasty bits were revealed in the second bill, they refused to allow the first bill to progress until we had sight of the second one.

With some delay the second bill was produced for scrutiny and the first bill went to the Executive for approval.

In November 2010 it was to be introduced before the Assembly, but it was withdrawn by the Executive, apparently because Unionist Ministers were afraid to allow it to be debated despite all the safeguards and blocking mechanisms they have at their disposal

Now I concede there were matters of difference, particularly around the independence of the Voluntary Grammars and the role of the Protestant clergy (Transferors) who ceded control of their schools to the State back in the 1940’s, but I am convinced that by debate and amendments brought forward in a normal Parliamentary way, those concerns could have been addressed.

As it was, the bill never came before us and we, as a supposed legislative Assembly filled the time discussing frequently irrelevant private members motions, binding on nobody, to the obvious dismay of the people who sent us to Stormont and who are entitled to better.

The present Minister John O’Dowd made it clear when he took office that he would only reintroduce ESA legislation if he was reasonably certain that the same thing would not happen again but he did indicate early this year that progress had been made and he was hopeful that a bill could be brought forward. Positive signals came from Unionist quarters also and even Mervyn Storey as Chair of the education Committee appeared to soften his “ESA is dead in the water” stance.

Incidentally, establishment of an ESA body was a commitment in the DUP manifesto for the May 2011 elections, but on 26th June 2012 the Minister told the Education committee that the bill which he had presented to the Executive on 7th March was in trouble.

Lo and behold however, on 18th July the First Minister announced that they had reached agreement and ESA would be brought to the next meeting of Executive, the same announcement they made after the May 2011 elections, fifteen months previously.

We will watch with interest what progress is made, because while the two main parties play their parliamentary games, the education of our children is suffering and it is absolutely imperative that we streamline the system and realise the savings that ESA will bring.

ESA is one of the best examples of the paralysis which has for too long gripped our Executive. Would it surprise people to know that for two full years during the last Assembly, no discussion on any matter relating to education was allowed at Executive meetings?

The most often asked question from the man in the street is “what are you doing up there” and it is unfair to those Assembly members who are prepared to find ways forward by negotiation and discussion, to be held back by deadlock at the highest level.

Frankly as an Assembly we have run out of excuses, the “building trust” and “getting to know each other” ones are no longer are valid. Northern Ireland is sorely in need of responsible government and the present Assembly needs to prove it is relevant to that need.

“Shape up or ship out” should be our mantra, otherwise I would question whether we should be there at all, certainly under the present system.

Original version of article which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 17 August 2012

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Tackling Segregation

I have continued to challenge segregation in Northern Ireland in all its forms, most obviously in my role on the Education Committee.

I believe in shared schooling. The integrated model offers an excellent example of this, though it is not the only one. More and more schools across Lagan Valley are recognising the potential for working together more effectively – sharing facilities, broadening choice, and reducing bureaucracy.

Although I am under no illusions about the challenges we face, I also believe the devolved institutions should show leadership in promoting sharing and community relations. It is easy to talk about these, but far harder to deliver in practice and to make delivery obviously beneficial to all of you. I recognise that documents such as the ‘CSI Strategy’ may initially appear remote from people going about their day-to-day lives, but a proper approach to them at the top of government would be a clear demonstration to those working hard on community relations on the ground that their work is being taken seriously.