Where are the boundaries of a conscience clause?

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DUP MLA Paul Givan’s announcement this morning that he is going to introduce a private members bill to bring in a conscience clause brings forth an important question; where is the boundary of that conscience?

We have equality legislation for a reason, that is to set the bounds of what counts as discrimination corporately. If we include in that legislation the right for individuals to set their own boundaries where will it end? You see if you let people have a get out clause that their own personal conscience allows them to do something you would have anarchy and nobody knowing their rights and boundaries.

A athiestic vandal who defaces a church property with any slogan could claim in court that his personal conscience told him that the church’s teachings were ridiculous that he had to warn others against their ‘lies’. With a conscience clause in place it would be highly likely that they would have to be let off, after all it is their own personal conscience that has the precedent.

This is the situation that Givan’s proposed bill brings to bear. His and the DUP’s intent is Orwellian in that all groups collective conscience is equal but some are more equal that others. However, you cannot give one group freedom of conscience without allowing it for all. Therefore attacks on churches and Christians are just as valid under a truly equal freedom of conscience bill, the only way one would pass an equality audit in compliance with Section 75 of the Northern Act.

Therein lies the problem for Paul Givan enshrined in the legislation that governs the Assembly states that all public bodies must not discriminate against one group. Therefore for example a business could avoid giving access to disabled people if the say their personal conscience tells them that all disabilities are a visible manifestation of god’s judgement on that person.

Even if Givan’s bill somehow managed to pass an equality audit, the Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland would call on all right thinking MLAs to raise a petition of concern on this issue. As it is legalising discrimination this is a valid and proper use of that mechanism. While the DUP would ensure that it would have the required majority in the unionist vote I suspect that enough of Sinn Féin and SDLP would vote against to ensure that it falls in gaining cross community support.

Paul Givan’s proposals are not about equality, they are actual a way to take a step backwards and allow intolerance that we have ruled out in the public sphere over recent years. It is actually a knee-jerk and ill thought out institutionalised homophobia, but it can stretch far further than that legalising sectarianism, racism, ableism, anti-religionism amongst other intolerances, because anyone would be able to decide for themselves how they would behave.

Attack on Alliance office is attack on society. #notinmyname

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Reacting to the news that the constituency office of Trevor Lunn MLA, of the Alliance Party was attacked this morning in Lisburn, John O’Neill, Chair of the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats said:

“As Northern Ireland looks forward to one of its most busy festive periods, the attack on Trevor Lunn’s office reminds us that there are still people who want to inflict their evil on the rest of society who are preparing for the warmth of the season.

“We, as Liberal Democrats, stand for the rights of all to be heard, but violence is not the way forward. The ordinary people of Northern Ireland will not tolerate any attempt to take us back to the dark days of the troubles. The attacks are not in my name.

Explosion in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter

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Police Service of Northern IrelandThis evening there was a small explosion in Belfast’s busy Cathedral Quarter where there are many restaurants and bars where there will have been many out on work parties for Christmas.

The Police Service has confirmed that it was caused by a bomb, but no further detail is available as yet.

The Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats fully support the police and army in their roles in investigating the security alert this evening. We can be thankful that there are no reports of anyone hurt on this occasion.

Tonight’s incident reminds us all that we should be looking out for suspicious objects and that we must report any to the police as soon as possible.

Is the Westminster Coalition helping or hindering recovery in N. Ireland?

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20131205-002519.jpgLater today, there is a political debate hosted by the Northern Ireland Government Affairs Group entitled

Is the Westminster Coalition helping or hindering Northern Ireland’s recovery?

Prominent Lib Dem blogger, Nick Thornsby is set to take part, and I—as a Northern Ireland Lib Dem party officer will be there to welcome him to the Province.

The debate is being held between 12.30 pm and 2.30 pm in the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ building in Corporation Square, Belfast. I hope to post more later today. Perhaps Nick would write a piece for us himself.

A Truly Wonderful Life

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A Truly Wonderful Life

It is with the deepest sadness that the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats receive the news of the death of Mrs Helena Alderdice. Many, in many realms of life, especially in her beloved Ballymena and Glens, mourn her loss, while giving thanks for the great, great deal that she gave, and for the wealth of memories and inspiration which we hope will offer what comfort and condolence are possible to her family, especially as they approach what will be for them a most difficult time of year.

We give thanks for all that she and Rev. Alderdice gave to their family, a family which has in turn, strengthened by their love and impassioned by their example, given so much to so many aspects of life in this Province; especially to Liberal politics, and to the politics – a pale, inadequate word to represent so much impetus and substance – of reconciliation and peace. We, the citizens of 21st Century Northern Ireland, are all her inheritors.

Her inspiration and love meant so much to the bringing of peace and light in this life. She rests forever in that light and peace.

Shooting in Newry —those responsible must face full force of law

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This morning a shooting in Newry is brought to our attention by the BBC.

As with many other people, we in the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats abhor the violence that is still being visited on the people of Northern Ireland.

I hope that the man who was attacked in the Parkhead Crescent area of the city and suffered injury to his stomach and knee will make a full recovery.

The staff of Northern Ireland’s health service so often have to look after those affected by such mindless violence. I know we all will thank them.

I call on anyone with any information about this and all other attacks to contact the PSNI as soon as possible and help them to rid the streets of the criminal or criminals behind this cruel attack. Those who persist in such violence must feel the full force of the law on them.