McCarthy slams the ‘Doing U-turns Party’

ALLIANCE Assembly member Kieran McCarthy has criticised the DUP for its second apparent policy U-turn in just over a week.

Mr McCarthy said he had been disappointed by the DUP voting against his proposals for free personal care for the elderly last Monday (June 24), after both he and Nigel Dodds brought forward a joint motion in February 2001 calling for the same.

But he said Mr Dodds was severely stretching his credibility when the DUP Minister criticised Mr McCarthy in the Assembly yesterday (Monday). The Alliance member had suggested Mr Dodds raise the matter of an interdepartmental working group to deal with sectarian graffiti with the Executive.

Mr Dodds had replied: “Another committee is not needed; what is needed is for the agencies on the ground to work with local communities, politicians and others to make progress.”

Speaking today, Mr McCarthy said: “Nigel Dodds clearly has a short memory. He does not remember that in September last year, the DUP – along with every other party – voted in favour of setting up a working group to make recommendations on the removal of paramilitary flags, emblems and graffiti from public property.

“Yet on Monday, he said it was not needed! The Minister will no doubt be grateful for the imminent recess, since he appears incapable of recalling what way he and his party have voted in previous debates. His statement was a contradiction. He calls for agencies to work together, yet slams any attempt to set up an interdepartmental group.

“Where is the consistency? Perhaps DUP really stands for the ‘Doing U-turns Party’.”

5th July 2002

Alliance demands ‘pro-active’ approach to removing terror flags

North Down Alliance Councillor, Stephen Farry, has called for a more pro-active approach from statutory agencies and the police to tackle the scourge of illegal paramilitary flags.

Speaking after the erection of a number of paramilitary flags in mixed areas, Stephen Farry stated:

“In too many parts of Northern Ireland, territory is being marked out by paramilitary flags. This risks turning our society into a series of ghettos rather common civic space, with the message that certain people are not really welcome here. These symbols are not just offensive to people perceived as the minority in certain areas, but also by many people who reject what is being done in their name.

“At present, the passive approach from statutory agencies such as the Roads Service and Housing Executive, plus the police, is to wait for indications of community support before removing such offensive symbols. Being realistic, that’s not going to happen when there is an expectation of intimidation or worse by those who would speak out.

“I believe that crimes are committed when these flags are erected and that the police should act when they see these offences being committed or when they are reported. Options open to them include arrests for actions likely to lead to a breach of the peace, road traffic offences, public order offences, and, under the recent Terrorism Act, soliciting support for a paramilitary organisation.

“There are also civil duties on the Roads Service and the Housing Executive to remove paramilitary flags. Under equality legislation, all public bodies have a duty to provide their services in a neutral , non-discriminatory fashion.”

16th July 2002

Alliance: Cautious welcome for IRA apology

ALLIANCE Deputy Leader and Victims Spokesperson Eileen Bell has given a guarded welcome to the IRA apology to some victims of IRA violence. She described it as a “positive step towards building greater confidence in the peace process”.

Mrs Bell stated: “This is an important gesture of reconciliation at a delicate stage of the peace process.

“An apology can never bring victims of violence back, but it is important that we all continue to make progress towards a normal society where all violence is a distant memory.

“While I hope this is the IRA’s way of beginning to say that the war is over, there is still a real need for it to fully acknowledge the pain caused to all victims, including members of the security forces.

“The IRA should also demonstrate its bona fides regarding the durability of their ceasefire. That means ensuring units take no further part in violence, and work towards a situation whereby the IRA can begin to disband.”

16th July 2002

Alliance Slams Border Poll Proposal

Alliance Party General Secretary, Stephen Farry, has slammed suggestions of holding a ‘border poll’ on the same day as the Assembly Election as crazy.

Dr Farry said:

“The idea of holding a ‘border poll’ on the same day as the Assembly Election is crazy.

“Even in the best of times, a ‘border poll’ would be incredibly dangerous and divisive. No other issue polarises the electorate of Northern Ireland more. On no other issue is there less common ground.

“The ethos of the Agreement is a win-win for all sections of the community. The outcome of a ‘border poll’ is winner takes all. They are little more than sectarian headcounts.

“A ‘border poll’ should only be called when there is clear evidence of a desire for change in Northern Ireland’s constitutional status. At present, there is no evidence of this. Therefore, there is no objective basis or necessity for the Secretary of State calling such a poll on May 2003, or at any other time in the immediate future.

“Surely, we should be trying to encourage constructive, consensual politics in the Assembly, and discussion on bread and butter issues? The timing of any poll to coincide with the Assembly Election would result in all discussion of other issues being crowded out of the political debate, and as a result, more political polarisation with even less political stability.

“In his quest to assist the perceived short-term interests of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble needs to be very careful to avoid unleashing forces which could cause great damage to community relations and ultimately the Agreement itself.”

17th July 2002

‘Republicans moving even further from violence’: Alderdice

Alliance Councillor David Alderdice has said he hopes yesterday’s “positive and encouraging” IRA apology is part of a bigger process which ends with the disbandment of the paramilitary group.

Cllr Alderdice said that since the election of Alex Maskey as Lord Mayor, the Republican Movement appeared to be distancing itself from the political violence it was once associated with.

Cllr Alderdice stated: “Republicans do seem to be operating in a more positive way since Alex Maskey became Lord Mayor of Belfast. There has been a noticeable change in the political climate, even in the past six weeks, with three unexpected and very welcome events; republicans commemorating the dead of World War I, senior IRA members holding rioters back during Orange parades and now this unprecedented apology from the IRA.

“It does seem to me that republicans are making the effort to warm up the ‘cold house’ unionists once complained of. They are taking small steps, but they are going in the right direction, and perhaps others will soon recognise this pattern.

“In Belfast, when Alliance voted for Alex Maskey as Lord Mayor, we expected moves from republicans. Now they have begun their confidence-building process, I would hope that their sincerity and faith in politics would be even more fully demonstrated by starting the process of IRA disbandment.”

23rd July 2002

Police quotas – High Court judgment “disappointing”

ALLIANCE Leader David Ford has said the Government should concern itself with getting more police on the beat, rather than worrying about what religious denomination recruits were.

Speaking after the High Court upheld 50/50 religious recruitment this morning, Mr Ford described the result as “disappointing”. He stated: “If we are to truly make progress to a normal society, we have to get away from this concept that all our people are divided into two mutually antagonistic groups. Not everyone is either a unionist or a nationalist, a Protestant or a Catholic.

“While it is quite understandable that special efforts were suggested to increase Catholic recruitment to the new police service, it is unacceptable that they should persist.

“Northern Ireland urgently needs to see a high level of recruitment of new, well qualified officers, serving the entire community. Our greatest need is to see more ‘bobbies on the beat’, not worry about whether they are Protestants or Catholics.

“It would be extremely damaging if potential recruits fail to take up their jobs because the desire to preserve a sectional balance means that recruitment is slower than it should be.

“I suspect this case has the potential to drag on for years before this law is declared illegal under the ECHR. It would be far better for the government to address the problem now.”

26th July 2002

Ekin welcomes move to combat sectarianism

THE Chairman of Belfast City Council’s Good Relations Working Group has welcomed today’s initial moves by the council to combat sectarian violence and murder.

Speaking after this afternoon’s meeting at City Hall, Alliance councillor Tom Ekin said the Good Relations Group will play an important role in bringing people together to look at ways to reduce tensions that lead to sectarian violence.

Cllr Ekin said: “I hope to have discussions with the various parties on how we go forward from here. This is the first step on a long journey of trust-building. Miracles won’t happen overnight, but I believe that together we can change things for the better in the long term.

“As far as I can see, the Government and the Secretary of State have done little to combat sectarianism, so it is time Belfast Council took greater responsibility and grasped the initiative.

“In order to make progress the group will use the expertise of people on the ground who are trying to achieve more permanent solutions. In the past, initiatives have broken down, leaving mistrust in their wake, so I hope this new approach will provide a more enduring structure.

“If we show real leadership, there is a very good chance we can break the current cycle of violence, blame and counter-accusation. That will require co-operation, more hard work and a lot less grandstanding.”

30th July 2002

Alliance slams OFMDFM terror flags statement as ‘meaningless’

ALLIANCE Justice Spokesperson Stephen Farry has accused the First and Deputy First Ministers of dodging responsibility on the issue of paramilitary flags in Northern Ireland.

Councillor Farry was responding to yesterday’s statement by OFMDFM in response to a question on the effect of paramilitary flags on community relations (Belfast Telegraph, July 30, page 3).

Cllr Farry stated: “While Ministers Trimble and Durkan recognise that terrorist flags are intimidating and present a poor image of Northern Ireland, they continue to do next to nothing to address the problem.

“Their joint statement yesterday was meaningless, since they completely abdicated responsibility on the matter. The First and Deputy First Ministers are supposed to preside over the Executive, yet they have placed responsibility for dealing with paramilitary flags back onto the community.

“The sad reality is that with the fear, intimidation and violence paramilitaries create and carry out, no-one can realistically expect ordinary people to take control of a situation that is out of their hands.

“Despite a unanimous call from the Assembly, the Executive has consistently refused to set up a working group to look at the problem. Instead, they said a report into their community relations strategy would deal with the issue. We are still awaiting publication of that report.”

31st July 2002

Progress being made on ‘ceasefire commissioner: Ford

ALLIANCE Leader David Ford has said that some progress has been made today on the issue of an independent ceasefire auditor.

Mr Ford was speaking after an Alliance delegation met this evening with Minister of State Des Browne. Among the other issues discussed were security resources and the need to tackle sectarianism in Northern Ireland society.

Mr Ford said: “Last month at Hillsborough, Alliance proposed that the Government should appoint an international, independent ceasefire auditor to shine a spotlight on the paramilitary activity that has been leading us from one political crisis to another.

“Today, we elaborated upon that idea with Des Browne, and some progress was made. However, urgency is the key to resolving the problem of paramilitary activity, and Alliance is keen to have some measures in place before this issue becomes the next millstone around the Assembly’s neck, just as decommissioning has been.

“I have already discussed our proposal with David Trimble and Mark Durkan. Further meetings will be held over the next few weeks to see how we can go forward together.

“I feel that a ‘ceasefire commissioner’ would bring a higher degree of honesty and integrity to the peace process. This is something others could unite behind to resolve our difficulties, rather than leave it to the last minute and sleepwalk into another period of instability.”

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