Statement on death of Martin McGuinness

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Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats Chair Stephen Glenn writes about the death of the former Deputy First Minister

Today was a day that all of us involved in Northern Irish politics had seen coming since the announcement in December that Martin McGuinness was cancelling a trip to China because of health reasons. When we last saw him in public it was his resignation as Deputy First Minister but the frailty we saw in him then contrasted to the images of him as a young man during the troubles.
Martin McGuinness

These images also showed the trajectory of the man from commander of the IRA in Derry/Londonderry to the respected elder statesman and one of the architects and sustainers of the peace in Northern Ireland. The tone of his words from his first appearances before the Northern Irish public to those at the latter stages of his political career also reflect the passage of Northern Irish politics.

While there have been some today who have only looked at the early part of his life as his legacy that have failed to realise that only a person from his position within the Irish Republican Army and Sinn Féin could have used his influence not only to bring about the ceasefire bit to sustain that. While at the start of his career he spoke about armed conflict being the only way forward, he ended it talking of reconciliation.

As the son of a man born like Martin into a community on the Cityside of Derry, although raised in the other working class community on opposite sides of the walled city, I’ve seen the change brough about by Martin.

The Rev David Latimer minister of the Glenn family church First Derry Presbyterian which overlooks the city walls into the Bogside has often spoken of Martin’s influence. This was a church that overlooked the site of the Bloody Sunday shootings, where shots, petrol or paint bombs were fired towards the church. It meant that in my early years when I entered the church even in the morning or afternoon it was dark because of the shutters protecting the windows at the front. When the roof needed replacing due to rot, Martin McGuinness was one of those who was reached out to even though he wasn’t elected for the area.

A hand of peace like that of the city’s famous statue was reached out and Martin was proactive not only in getting the support for the major building works but also in reducing the attacks on the church. He was there for the reopening of the building and the difference in brightness for me is a reflection of the hope he brought for a better future in Northern Ireland.

Yes the story of Martin McGuinness is a tangle of contrasts, but it is also proof that men are not leopards and can change their spots. But the legacy is his part, along with Ian Paisley, of making the impossible not only seem possible but turned it into a workable partnership of working together. We need that as much now as when they first stood side by side 10 years ago.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Statement in support of Paul Finlay-Dickson

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When somebody is grieving and in the run up to the death of a partner they deserve respect and understanding. But for Paul Finlay-Dickson and his late partner Maurice that was not to be. They were receiving threats and intimidation for being who they are in North Belfast, even while Maurice was going through the last months of his life with cancer.

Intimidation is wrong in every context.

Yet, it has been used in Northern Ireland too often to remove what one section of society considers are undesirable from their midst. We live in a society where our largest political party seem to continue a rhetoric that people are allowed to have objections to people who are LGBT. The problem is that this language leads to people thinking it is alright to intimidate their neighbours whose sexuality or gender story is different to their own.

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We call on other parties in Northern Ireland to seek the same so that such intolerance and fear is not propagated through our communities. The language our politicians use at times stirs up some sections against members of our society and more care is needed to promote tolerance and not objection to people who are different.

Federal Conference registration open – but do we really want to apply

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Logo Liberal Democrats UK

Image via Wikipedia

Normally I would support information from the Federal Party getting out – so even though I have major concerns, which I seem to share with Stephen Glenn and Caron Lindsay, about the security arrangements for our Federal Party conference in September, here is the information on how to register.

Registration for the upcoming Autumn Federal Conference in Birmingham is now open.

Whether you are a first timer or a long-standing conference attendee, voting or non-voting member, Lib Dem Federal Party conference has something for everyone.

Five days’ worth of lively policy debate – all the more important as we seek to keep the Parliamentary Party in check.

Fantastic networking opportunities – where else do you get to meet so many movers and shakers within our Party?

Wide Variety of fringe events, including the ever-popular Glee Club.

Registration is possible for the full week, just the weekend, or even just for a single day (Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday).

The quickest, easiest and most secure way to register is
online at www.libdems.org.uk/conference.

If you register early, there is a saving – so do think about it. The first ‘Early Bird’ cut off is June 10.

Key Information:

Date: 17–21 September, Birmingham
Conference Centre: The ICC, Broad Street, Birmingham, B1 2EA
Conference Hotel: Hyatt Regency Birmingham – opposite ICC
Fringe & Training: Jurys Inn Birmingham, Broad Street

David Cairns MP RIP – a man who spoke up for LGBT Ugandans

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David Cairns MP

David Cairns MP

The Labour MP for Inverclyde David Cairns sadly died today at the young age of 44. He had been admitted to hospital in March with acute pancreatitis.

He had a varied life starting out as a Catholic Priest in London and Scotland having trained at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and then the Franciscan International Centre in Canterbury. However, he soon realised that politics were his life and he gave up the life of the parish priest to become a director of the Christian Socialist Movement.CSM

From 1994 he served in that role but because of his previous calling at that time could not enter Parliament as an MP. Ordained Catholic priests were forbidden from being elected to the commons under the House of Commons (Clergy Disqualification) Act 1801 and the Catholic Relief Act 1829.

However, his Labour colleague and fellow Roman Catholic Siobhain McDonagh, for whom he was working as a research assistant introduced the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Bill which would allow all Clergy except those from the Church of England (due to their Lord’s Spiritual) from being eligible for election. Cairns had already been selected to replace the retiring Norman Godman for his hometown seat of Greenock and Inverclyde. He was duly elected in 2001.

LGBT LabourAs one of the growing number of LGB MPs David was also was also a patron of LGBT Labour and Chair of the All Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS. As the coordinator of LGBT Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland I wish to express my personal and those of the group’s condolences to his partner Dermot, father John and brother Billy, as well as the wider family circle, friends and colleagues at this sudden loss of a man so young.

With the bill to kill gay men in Uganda again top of the LGBT agenda it is perhaps worth remembering these words from David in the Commons’ Chamber last year:

“If I may borrow a phrase from Harold Macmillan and amend it, the wind of oppression is blowing through the African continent today, an oppression aimed largely at young gay men and women. It has become a much more pressing issue; and although it is not confined to Africa, it is in Africa that that dehumanising and brutal oppression is occurring on this very day.

“We are aware of the notorious private Member’s Bill tabled in Uganda by David Bahati that proposes
the death penalty for people who are HIV-positive and engaged in homosexual activity, life in prison for everyone else who engages in homosexual activity, and seven years in prison for people who counsel those who engage in homosexual activity. It is, as I said, a private Member’s Bill, and the Ugandan Government have distanced themselves from it. None the less, even without the Bill, it will be illegal to be gay in Uganda, and punishable by 14 years in prison. The President of Uganda has said that homosexuality is “alien”. In the last year for which figures are available, the United Kingdom Government gave £71 million in aid to Uganda.

“…

“It is not only on the ground of sexuality that countries oppress rights. As we heard from the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson), some countries oppress people on the ground of religion, which may be rooted in differences of creed or race. If our international aid budget is rooted in our humanity, it does not come value-free, and it does not come free from a sense that the humanity of everyone must be respected.

“I have not even mentioned the utterly disastrous effect these policies in Africa are having on the rise in HIV and AIDS. If someone who thinks they might have HIV is told that to be homosexual is to be worse than a pig or a dog and is punishable by 14 years in prison, why would they come forward? What possible reason would they have to seek medical help and the method to prevent the spread of HIV? We are funding anti-HIV and AIDS programmes in countries with policies that do nothing to stop HIV and AIDS, and instead contribute to their spread.

“This is a big job for the Government. I do not pretend it is the most important thing on the plate of incoming Ministers, but it is important to millions across Africa whose fundamental human right to be gay or lesbian is being brutally oppressed by regimes. I look to the Government to give a lead by setting out what positive action we can take when our denunciations are brushed aside and doing something about this appalling miscarriage of human rights.

What more fitting to an active campaigner for HIV and LGBT rights than for people to sign the petition to urge Ugandan President Musevini to veto the “Kill the Gays Bill”.

You can sign it here http://www.allout.org/uganda

Condolences to the Alderdices

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The thoughts and prayers of all in the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats will be with Lord Alderdice and his brother David and the whole Alderdice family circle today as they grieve for their father.

I remember the Rev. David Alderdice, when he came into school to do Assembly when he was Minister of Wellington Street Presbyterian Church, Ballymena. He was always very caring and welcoming when I was at his house with other friends from Ballymena.

Ireland’s Greatest – a worthy winner

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John Hume - now 'Ireland's Greatest' as chosen by RTÉ viewers

Last night an Raidío Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) the announcement of the viewers poll to find Ireland’s Greatest went to a very worthy recipient, John Hume the Nobel Peace laureate who is formerly MP, MEP and leader of the SDLP.

At a time when the buzz across Ireland is to look for a shared future living in peace between all communities the man whose involvement stems from the civil rights movement in the 60s to the Belfast Agreement and is still felt today is a beacon of where we can be. Hume is a man who spent all of his public life working to bring people together. As someone who started out merely looking out for the local residents of Derry as part of the Derry Citizen’s Action Committee and a founder member of the Derry Credit Union his rise to international acclaim shows how local campaign can shape a life and change the world.

John Hume of course set up the SDLP but it was his work in secret talks with Sinn Féin that got the first cease-fire in the troubles declared in Northern Ireland, then got them around the table for talks about a shared future, which culminated with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

He’s done a lot to lead to a united, shared future for those of us in Northern Ireland and indeed Ireland as a whole. Up against Michael Collins, Mary Robinson, James Connolly and Bono he was a worthy winner. Here is what the man himself said about the accolade:

‘I am very proud that people across Ireland took the time to vote for me and I appreciate it greatly.

‘This award obviously recognises the contribution of my wife and family over many years as well as others who worked with me.’

‘I can only thank people in Derry and across the country for taking the time to vote for me.’

Adding that the tag of Ireland’s Greatest could have been given to all men and women who had campaigned for peace throughout the island.

Party President: The Members Decide

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Following the decision of Ros Scott not to seek a second term the nominations to be the next Party President of the Liberal Democrats closed yesterday. It emerged that only two candidates have the required nominations to go before the all member ballot.

The two candidates and their respective websites are:

Tim Farron

Tim Farron

Susan Kramer

Susan Kramer

Susan Kramer and Tim Farron

Both candidates will in due course be mailing their manifestos to all party members, however both have intimated that they will be willing to answer specific questions from members. For those members who do not know both candidates that may be the way to help decide how to cast your vote.

This blog will remain impartial during the Presidential election, not endorsing either candidate. But will represent a balance reporting of both as and when it is available. I’m looking to compile a list of five questions to pose to both so any suggestions of what should be asked please add in the comments or email us directly.