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Increased turnout was vote of confidence

The LV Alliance team at the recent count

The LV Alliance team at the recent count

The increased voter turnout across Northern Ireland was a clear sign that people want devolved government and local politicians making decisions on key issues such as the economy, health and education.

That’s the view of Alliance’s Trevor Lunn, who comfortably retained his Stormont seat after seeing his first preference vote in Lagan Valley increase by almost 65 per cent from last year – up from 3,707 to 6,105.

“I’d like to thank the people for re-electing me and putting their confidence in me again,” he said. “I’ll do my best to serve them in any way they choose. When people come to me for help I don’t ask how they vote or where they come from, I just deal with their problem the best I can and I will continue doing that.” While unable to say when he and his fellow MLAs are likely to make a return to the Assembly chamber, Mr Lunn stressed that “the will is there” among the politicians. “The DUP in particular have had a big cautionary tale over the past couple of days and it’ll knock some of the arrogance out of them, frankly, and I hope they can see the benefit of trying to get together and move things forward,” he said.

Describing the increased turnout across Northern Ireland as “a vote of confidence” for the devolved institutions rather than a protest against the RHI scandal, Mr Lunn continued: “It shows that people trust us and they want Stormont. They want the politicians to get on with it and we really shouldn’t be letting them down. “From what people were telling us for the last five or six weeks on the doorsteps it’s very much about wanting to sort out health, education, the budget, programme for government and trying to put this place on an even keel. They want us to use the money we have wisely and make decisions for everybody and not for particular sections. We need to try to eliminate some of the costs of division. It’s a long term project, but we have to make a start.”

Reflecting on a successful election for the Alliance Party across Northern Ireland, Mr Lunn said: “Apart from securing our main seats quite easily we have reached out into areas where we only got a nominal vote in the past and we’re now getting a four figure vote, and in a couple of cases well into four figures. We got four-and-a-half thousand votes in South Down and if you go back to 2010 that was probably about 500. “Our total vote’s gone up from 48,000 to about 72,000, but it’s more the spread and the fact that we all got in with ease. Now west of the Bann we are a significant force and we’ll be looking towards council seats.”

With Alliance looking to make further gains for the centre ground, Mr Lunn is not ruling out the possibility of targeting two seats in Lagan Valley come the next Assembly poll. “We are up to thirteen-and-a-half per cent of the vote so that’s pretty close to the point where you could run two candidates, but getting two out of five is much more difficult than getting two out of six. “Maybe if we run a full term this time, in five years time, all things being equal, we would certainly be looking at the potential of running two candidates,” he said.

Lunn thanks Lagan Valley voters

Newly elected Alliance Assembly member Trevor Lunn has thanked voters across Lagan Valley for their continued support.Trevor Lunn said, ‘Once again I feel very privileged to have been selected by thousands of voters across Lagan Valley to represent them in the Assembly. The strength of my mandate shows there is support for a progressive party that wants to move Northern Ireland forward. We do not need to resort to scare tactics, but have shown we can take a principled stand on controversial issues that are important to many people.

“I thank the voters of Lagan Valley and pledge I will work for all sections of this community to the best of my ability. As the parties enter negotiations to develop a programme for government, the Alliance Party team will argue strongly for objectives that can deliver our core policies to achieve greater integration of services that will better serve the people.

“At the local level, my busy constituency office will continue to help people deal with the issues impacting on their daily lives, such as welfare benefits, unemployment and housing. These are the real issues the new Assembly must address.

“I would also like to thank my family, constituency staff and election team, who made my re-election possible.”

TrevorLunnreelected

Following the announcement that Trevor Lunn was the second to be elected in Lagan Valley L-R Cllr Amanda Grehan, Myra Brown, Cllr Owen Gawith, Trevor Lunn MLA, Brian Dornan (election agent), Laureen Lunn, Cllr Aaron McIntyre & Gretta Thompson

 

 

Alliance legislative priorities for new mandate

Dictionary Series : Legislation

Dictionary Series : Legislation

Alliance are the only main party to have unveiled their legislative priorities for the new Assembly term. Our legislative programme, which contains commitments to bring a Single Equality Bill, Equal Marriage Bill and an Animal Welfare Bill among others, would help correct the lack of progress in many areas by the previous Executive.  The Assembly is often criticised for a lack of movement on and discussion of real legislation. However with this legislative programme, Alliance believes the next Assembly can hit the ground running with proper business that delivers for all the people of Northern Ireland. We are already far behind the rest of the UK in terms of equality and other laws, and are in danger of falling even further behind if we do not see some serious movement soon.

Bills such as a proposed single equality one would better reflect the diversity of multiple identities within Northern Ireland, while a marriage equality Bill with robust protections for faith groups would move us into the 21st Century, and an animal welfare Bill would help defend some of the most vulnerable creatures in our society.

 

Alliance’s legislative priorities –

1. Single Equality Bill

This Bill will harmonise existing equality and anti-discrimination measures and update and strengthen equality provisions. Our Act would also revise Fair Employment monitoring to better reflect the diversity of mixed and multiple identities within Northern Ireland.

2. Marriage (Same-sex couples) Bill
This Bill will extend civil marriage provisions to same sex couples, provided that robust protections are provided through legislation to protect faith groups and religious celebrants who do not wish to marry same-sex couples.

3. Integrated Education Bill

This Bill will provide a greater basis for the further development of integrated education and will implement those parts of our nine-point plan for integrated education.

4. Climate Change Bill

This Bill will develop a climate change framework for Northern Ireland, with a clear ‘road map’ for implementation. This would include binding and stringent carbon emissions targets for the Northern Ireland Executive.

5. Environmental Protection Bill

This Bill will update environmental regulation and enforcement, including establishing an independent Environmental Protection Agency.

6. Animal Welfare Bill
This Bill will include provisions that prohibit wild animals in circuses, the hunting of animals with dogs, the use of electronic dog collars and the use of snares. It will also better regulating the sale of puppies and kittens.

7. Access to Justice Bill

This Bill will deliver reforms flowing from the Access to Justice Review (Pt II) and the judicially-led Review of Civil and Family Justice, as well as new Compensation arrangements.

8. Sentencing Bill
This Bill will implement reforms flowing from the planned review of the penal policy, and the replacement of current custodial orders and community disposals in youth justice cases.

9. Adoption Bill
This Bill will provide a long overdue update of Adoption Law in Northern Ireland by ensuring uniformity across statutory agencies setting clear standards in terms of quality and putting in place eligibility criteria reflecting the norms of modern society.

10. Private Renting Bill
This Bill will improve the regulation of the private rented sector, focusing on increasing security of tenure, improving standards in poorer homes and reducing up-front fees.

Progress on combating animal cruelty must continue

Alliance Assembly candidate Trevor Lunn has said the good progress made recently combating animal cruelty must continue.

Trevor Lunn said: “In recent times, several high profile court cases have highlighted the issue of animal cruelty and neglect. These inexcusable acts of cruelty against defenceless animals have both sickened and angered people right across our community.

“The Alliance Party has always prioritised animal welfare and our party leader and Justice Minister, David Ford, has recently done important work to protect animals. His Justice (No 2) Bill, increased the maximum penalty for serious cases of animal cruelty to five years and also allows the Director of Public Prosecutions to challenge unduly lenient sentences for animal cruelty.

“As we applaud these important changes, much work remains. Alliance believes we should ban the use of wild animals in circuses, and also reduce and better regulate necessary animal testing. We would also advocate increasing the powers of local authorities to deal with issues like horse abandonment.

“The area of animal ownership should be better regulated and we believe cats should be micro-chipped and registered as dogs are. Tighter regulation of the selling of pets would help protect the animals and ensure purchasers are dealt with honestly.

“Alliance believes that by better protecting animals, our society can show itself to be compassionate and caring.”

alliance-animal-cruelty

Northern Ireland falling behind on equality

Trevor Lunn MLAAlliance Assembly candidate Trevor Lunn has criticised the lack of progress on equality issues.

Trevor Lunn said; “During the last term, the Assembly failed to fulfil its responsibilities on a range of equality issues, leaving Northern Ireland behind the rest of the UK.

“Alliance believes that a Single Equality Act should be a priority for the new Executive following next month’s election. The Act would harmonise existing equality and anti-discrimination measures and update and strengthen equality provisions. It would also revise fair employment monitoring to better reflect the diversity of the mixed and multiple identities that makes Northern Ireland such a vibrant society.

“Through inaction in the Office of the First and deputy First Minister, we have fallen behind in our protection of those from the LGBT community, while also failing on age discrimination legislation. While an updated racial equality strategy was finally published, we need to see legislation strengthened to protect newcomers who may be targeted or discriminated against. The introduction of the Equality Act (2010) in Great Britain means that in certain areas our legislation lags behind best practice.

“Alliance believes equality should be at the heart of the new programme for government, to show citizens from every community and background that they are valued and their rights will be protected.”

Lagan Valley Island lights up for World Down Syndrome Day

Cllr Vasundhara Kamble

Cllr Vasundhara Kamble

Lisburn and Castlereagh Councillors have agreed to light up Lagan Valley Island in blue and yellow on 21 March to show support for World Down Syndrome day.

The decision was taken following a proposal from Alliance Party councillor Vasundhara Kamble, who said; “This is the tenth year of World Down Syndrome Day, and I am very pleased that my fellow councilors have agreed to help raise public awareness of Down syndrome through this simple gesture.

“Right across the world this important day will be observed in many ways and it is appropriate for Lisburn and Castlereagh to show our support and help raise awareness of what Down syndrome is, what it means to have Down syndrome, and how people with Down syndrome play a vital role in our lives and communities.”

WDSD was first observed in 2006 in many countries around the world and in December 2011 the United Nations General Assembly declared 21 March as World Down Syndrome Day. The date for WDSD being the 21st day of the 3rd month, was selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome which causes Down syndrome.

A free vote on abortion is essential

Trevor Lunn MLASome time ago, my colleagues and I met Sarah Ewart and her mother, Jane Christie. In 2013, Sarah made public her heartbreaking experience of having to travel to England to access a termination after her unborn baby was diagnosed with a brain and skull malformation that gave no possibility of survival outside of the womb and led to the risk of her being poisoned if the foetus died in utero.

It was a tragic story that brought to prominence the plight of women who suffer a Fatal Foetal Abnormality (FFA) and I and others promised Sarah and Jane we would do all we could to help prevent other women going through the same harrowing experience.

The amendment to the Justice Bill brought by Stewart Dickson and I will be debated in the Assembly on Wednesday. It is a strictly worded amendment relating specifically to FFA and, while it may not go far enough for some, as we know, politics is about what is possible.

I believe this is the only way forward which a majority of the Assembly will potentially support.

Abortion law is a matter of conscience for Alliance, with the party’s representatives and members having opinions that range across the spectrum.

After an extensive consultation, the Justice Minister brought a proposal to the Executive in June 2015 that would have seen legislation agreed in cases of FFA. Unfortunately, that has been blocked by others in the Executive, leading to a stalemate. I would make a personal appeal to those parties who blocked it and who have not yet made public their intentions around this amendment to allow a free vote among their MLAs on this issue. I believe in such a case, the amendment would pass.

Further to that, I plead with the larger parties – in particular, the DUP – not to use the petition of concern mechanism to block it.

Not only would that be an immense disappointment to me, other sympathetic MLAs and supporters of such legislation, but it would deny a relatively small group of women in tragic circumstances the right to make their own choice, a right they surely deserve.

(Originally published in the Belfast Telegraph 08/02/2016)

Cllr Amanda Grehan

Amanda Grehan is the Alliance Party councillor for Lisburn South.

Amanda Grehan

Amanda Grehan

Grehan welcomes ban on ‘legal highs’

Alliance Councillor Amanda Grehan has welcomed a ban on so-called ‘legal highs’, after the Psychoactive Substances Act received royal assent in recent days.

The Act – due to be implemented from spring this year – will prohibit the production, supply and importation of these potentially dangerous drugs, often incorrectly called ‘legal highs’, with offenders facing up to seven years in prison.

Councillor Amanda Grehan said: “Banning these substances is a very welcome move to protect our young people. They are often produced and packaged in back street garages with no controls on hygiene or what actually goes into the packages.

Examples of 'legal' highs (Getty Images)

Examples of ‘legal’ highs (Getty Images)

“Tests on packages found in Northern Ireland have shown the same brand name to regularly contain different ingredients. This can lead users to take more when they do not get the same effect as previously, and overdosing can result.

“We have seen too many of our young people become ill, or tragically die following use of these products. The people producing or selling these substances are only interested in making money and have no concern for the users.

“I have previously highlighted this issue in the Council Chamber and I applaud the efforts of the Alliance Justice Minister David Ford MLA, who has worked closely with the Home Office to have this new law enacted. As a mother, I am pleased that another potential danger will be removed from our streets.”

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.