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.

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A peaceful and shared society: is it too much to hope for?

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I remember exactly where I was the morning after loyalist paramilitaries declared a ceasefire in October 1994. I was at a conference for sixth-formers from across the island of Ireland held at Campbell College in East Belfast. The conference was entitled, “Ireland: the next hundred years”. When it was being planned no-one could have known that it would be held the morning after the loyalist ceasefire. It changed everything.

Today, nineteen years and one month on, we are meant to be in a peaceful Northern Ireland. But are we?

The chairman of the Police Federation has said that he believes that one of the loyalist paramilitary groupings is no longer keeping its ceasefire. Terry Spence said: 

“The UVF have been engaged in murder, attempted murder of civilians, attempted murder of police officers, they’ve been engaged in orchestrating violence on our streets, and it’s very clear to me that there engaged in an array of mafia-style activities.”

This morning we heard on the news about an attack on a fifteen-year-old in Coleraine, County Londonderry. The boy was shot in both legs by a gang of masked men, one of whom was armed with a baseball bat as well.

Over the weekend, the Mayor of North Down, Cllr Andrew Muir of the Alliance Party expressed concern about a poster from paramilitary organisations stating that they will severely deal with perpetrators of crimes.

Is this the best we can hope for?

I know that this is not the best that we can have in Northern Ireland. Those who are attempting to “police” their own areas by shooting fifteen-year-olds, by threatening posters, are not the guardians of the peace that they seem to think they are. The real guardians of the peace are the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

It is they who have been arresting those behind the riots and disorder that Northern Ireland has seen in the last 12 months. Today, they released images of individuals that they want to speak to, Detective Superintendant Sean Wright, the Senior Investigating Officer explained,

“In the past 12 months, police officers have dealt with a number of episodes of serious disorder on the streets of Northern Ireland. We have been clear from the outset that there would be consequences for individuals who seek to engage in illegal activity and we have been carrying out a thorough investigation to identify those involved and make them amenable for their actions.

I call on anyone with any information about these images and all other crimes including the shooting in Coleraine to get in touch with the PSNI. It is only by doing that those who act in a criminal way will feel the  force of the law. And what is important is that it is done in a fair, normal and legal manner. That is by the police, the prosecution service and the courts. It is not up to some paramilitary thug to decide what is and is not acceptable.

Perhaps, each of us in our own communities needs to stand up and tell the bully boys that want to drag Northern Ireland backwards that we do not want it. There may be a lot more work to be done to bring our wee country to the real peaceful and shared society that we all want, but if we don’t try this, will those up at Stormont really help?

 

A response to the events of the evening of 8th March

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I utterly and without hesitation condemn the orchestrated mob violence in Glengormley on the evening of Fri 8th March, which culminated in injury to several PSNI officers and an attack on the premises of the office of David Ford MLA, which resulted in damage to a neighbouring, unassociated business.

This is the latest in a four-month series of attacks on, and threats to, elected Alliance representatives. It is worthy to note that this attack comes a day after Alliance raised its vote in Mid-Ulster by 23%. Further demonstration, if any were needed, of the dichotomy between the democratic process and the politics of the street, and between those who respectively practice them.

We in the Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats are, as always, proud to stand alongside our sister party.

 

Violence and fire-lighting is not the way forward #standingwithstewart

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Coat of Arms of Belfast City Council

Coat of Arms of Belfast City Council (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My thoughts and prayers are with all Alliance Party representative and their staff at this difficult time following the decision by Belfast City Council to fly the Union Flag on designated days.

Reports are coming in this evening that a constituency office for Stewart Dickson MLA, the Alliance representative for East Antrim has been set on fire. According to the BBC the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service are at the scene.

As with the protest yesterday that forced Naomi Long MP‘s office to close early, all that these actions will do will be to stop local people from getting the assistance that they so often need with benefit queries, housing, social care needs, passport applications, and other local issues that they so often need help with. The thugs and criminals that have done this must be caught by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and brought to justice.

If any public representative has urged people to come out on to the street and protest, I suggest that he thinks again about the wisdom of this. The matter of the Union Flag has been dealt with by the body responsible in one local government district – Belfast City Council. It is outrageous for so many so-called Loyalists to be protesting in areas of Northern Ireland which are specifically affected by the decision.

I call on anyone with any information to pass it to the PSNI as soon as possible, that the real scum who have done this are brought before the courts.

 

Help us all by telling PSNI about those who plant hoax devices

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Police Service of Northern Ireland

Police Service of Northern Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thankfully the evacuation of Omagh Police Station last night was due to a hoax device. Sadly, even hoax devices can be used to create terror in the lives of our police and of our communities across Northern Ireland. I call on anyone with any information about those who plant hoax devices and real devices to contact the PSNI about this. It is essential that those responsible are brought before the courts for justice.

The PSNI can be contacted on 0845 600 8000 for non-emergency reporting. In an emergency do phone 999.

Originally published on Michael Carchrie Campbell

those who create terror must not be let to win

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Police Service of Northern Ireland

Badge of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With reports from Chris Lindsay, BBC journalist on NewsLine that Omagh Police station is being evacuated due to a suspicious package,

I sincerely hope and pray that nothing untoward is found. My thoughts are with all serving our community in the Police Service of Northern Ireland at this time. Those who continually seek to create terror in Northern Ireland need to know that we will not put up with this. You will be found by the PSNI and brought before the courts.

Originally posted at Michael Carchrie Campbell.

A. Wise Man replies – but are the security arrangements wise?

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Just received an email from A. Wise Man (Andrew Wiseman), regarding security arrangements at Federal Conference this autumn. Below is his reply – my specific points from my original email are highlighted in blue. Comments thereafter are in red.

Many thanks for yor email forwarded on by Chris Fox.

I appreciate your concern at the arnagements that we have had to put in place. I certainly would prefer not to have the arrangements but FCC has had to balance the safety of those attending conference and take heed of police and Home Office advice. The final decision as to who attends conference does rest with the party and not the police.

In terms of your specific concerns:

  • Details of dual passports (British and Irish) the details of which for the first time ever will be linked. This has particular problems in that many people will have their name in the British one in English and in the Irish one as Gaeilge (in the Irish language), a fact that will be recorded by Greater Manchester Police and held by West Midlands Police and forwarded to ‘any other police forces’. Does this include the FBI?

The only police forces the data is shared with is those that host party political conferences. The system is a stand alone conference accreditation system that is only used for party political conferences. Anyone that wants to have their data deleted after the conference can.

Far be it for me to suggest that we cannot trust the Police in the United Kingdom, but are we honestly to believe that this ‘standalone system’ is not linked in to general police computers? We are being told that the data is to be deleted after the Conference. Not after the check has been made, but after the Conference. That’s quite some time for the details to be held. Anyone else worried by this?

  • Further to this, whilst we understand that FCC will have final say for conference, should a Northern Ireland member with dual passports be flagged up by an English, Scottish or Welsh constabulary this may go on their permanent record and permanently affect their  travel between constituent parts of the United Kingdom (to and from Great Britain from Northern Ireland). Our Membership Development Officer, Stephen Glenn, before he was 21 had visited five Iron Curtain countries on a British passport and on his first trip to the United States of America spent four hours in immigration explaining the reasons for these visits. Following this he acquired an Irish passport, to which as an Irish citizen he was entitled, to expedite easy immigration to the United States of America on subsequent visits.

Please see my answer above, it is a stand alone system just for conferences.

  • Does this therefore mean that Northern Ireland representatives may be adversely affected by a security threat to Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom by a dissident republican terrorist grouping?

I don’t think that there is any reason by NI reps should be affected by a security threat over and above ‘main land’ reps.

Then I would suggest that Mr Wiseman has not had the pleasure of growing up and living in Northern Ireland travelling between here and the rest of the United Kingdom at times of heightened security. Especially given the fact that at least one of our reps has a passport as a citizen of Ireland in which his name looks distinctly Irish.

  • A senior police officer of the Police Service of Northern Ireland has advised one of our local party executive committee that to ask for the details of both Irish and British passports of those who hold both is both racist and discriminatory under the terms of the Belfast Agreement 1998 (an international treaty), to which Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom is a signatory.

I am happy to take this point up with the police on your behalf. Do you have the dtails of the senior police officer you refer to so I can get them to speak? If that’s not appropriate I’ll just pass it on as it is.

It was a very senior officer, and some further details will be forwarded privately to Mr Wiseman.

  • Should we recruit new members who may, in the past have convictions or even security records held by police, who are now back in the community following the Belfast Agreement 1998, require accreditation at future conferences, these people will more than likely be flagged as a risk by the police. This would therefore mean that their rights as members of our Party would be denied. This is unacceptable.

The police have made it clear that just having criminal convictions is not necessarily a problem. I understand that the police look at the current risk the individual poses rather than believing they are a risk just because of past convicions. At the end of the day it is the party that decides, we can ‘over rule’ police advice and take responsibility for that individual’s action.

Which party gets to make the decision? The Federal one, or the one that elects members to be representatives at Federal Conference. This seems to be top down, rather than bottom up.

  • Another problem is that were a constable to try to check our local party representatives’ local party details using the Federal Party website, he would be hard-pressed to find references to our local party on it. As I have outlined previously to Chris Fox, the link at the bottom of the Federal Party website marked ‘N. Ireland’ goes to the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland’s website. In addition were anyone to check our local party by using our postcode, it will bring up that it is not there. Also by clicking on Northern Ireland on the map on the ‘In your area’ page, nothing is brought up. As I have said to Chris Fox this is not acceptable when we do have a local party operating in Northern Ireland.

While I can’t comment on the Federal Party website if you go onto the conference registration secion you will find that the local party of Northern Ireland is an option for those members who are from that local party.

I am well aware that the conference registration section has a ‘Northern Ireland’ option, but that does not quite answer my question.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any queries,

Regards,

Andrew

I’m still not happy about all of this – and following our discussion in the Duke of York public house with another visiting member of FCC (Linda Jack tonight, Ian Walton on Monday night) in Belfast this evening, I am pretty certain that three of our elected representatives to Federal Conference are unhappy too. However, it is clear that if we want to make sure that no one makes more of a balls-up on Liberal Values at conference, we’d better all at least attempt to go there, rather than let those who think that this is a good thing be the only ones there. In other words, a mass boycott of conference would not be the best option – though we did discuss it.