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MLA News

  • Naomi Long
    last Tuesday

    Alliance Leader Naomi Long MLA has urged the Secretary of State to end the current drift at Stormont, after planning permission for an incinerator in Co Antrim was blocked by the High Court due to lack of democratic scrutiny.

    The proposed facility in Mallusk was initially approved by the Department for Infrastructure but yesterday's decision by Mrs Justice Keegan said the approval was unlawful as it was made in the absence of a Minister by senior civil servants and without any democratic accountability in place.

    East Belfast MLA Mrs Long has now written to Secretary of State Karen Bradley, urging her to pursue Alliance proposals to both appoint an independent facilitator to restart all-party talks and to enable Assembly committees to sit and provide advice and scrutiny to Departments, with a view to enabling decisions on key issues to once again be made.

    "Alliance shared the concerns of objectors regarding the suitability of the Hightown Road site as a location for the incinerator. While the ruling was welcome for rejecting that, it raised a significant challenge to the lawfulness of decision-making by the civil service in the absence of devolved institutions, an alternative mechanism for democratic accountability or the restoration of direct rule.

    "There are a number of key infrastructure projects, the progress of which could be jeopardised by the implications of yesterday's ruling, including the A5 Western Transport Corridor and the North-South interconnector.

    "The Secretary of State needs to urgently appoint an independent facilitator to reconvene all-party talks as soon as possible and pursue agreement from all to have Assembly Committees sit, in order to scrutinise and advise Departments on key decisions and policy, taking forward legislation on issues.

    "If she does not, Karen Bradley needs to state immediately what alternative measures she intends to bring forward to enable the civil service to make the vital decisions required for Northern Ireland to function on a sustainable basis. They cannot be avoided any longer."
  • Stephen Farry profile pic 1
    last Tuesday

    Alliance Deputy Leader Stephen Farry MLA has lasting peace in the Middle East seems even more elusive now after renewed violence.

    Israeli troops killed 58 people and injured 2,700, after fighting at the Gaza border. Palestinian rioters threw stones and incendiary devices at Israeli troops, who replied with tear gas and live fire from snipers.

    The violence, which comes after weeks of protests at the border fence, marks the deadliest day in Gaza for four years. It came as the American Government opened its first embassy in Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the US backing Israeli control over the city.

    "It is heartbreaking to see this violence and these deaths, which have heightened hostility and increased hatred between communities," said Dr Farry.

    "While Israel has a right to self-defence, their actions in this instance were clearly an excessive use of force, well beyond those rights and not in proportion, and has directly led to the death of 58 people, including children and teenagers.

    "The United States' relocation of its embassy is ill-advised and counterproductive, which has helped make the likelihood of lasting peace in the Middle East even more elusive. The UK Government needs to speak up and condemn what is happening in Gaza."
  • Paula Bradshaw20172
    last Monday

    Alliance Health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw MLA has described an allocation of £15 million to address workforce challenges in the health service as a step in the right direction but warned there is still a long way to go.

    Nearly 100 extra nurses and midwives will be recruited due to the money but Ms Bradshaw said it needed to be coupled with other plans to help the health service.

    "The extra money is naturally welcome. This is designed not just to improve capacity, but in fact to improve working conditions for those already in the health service," she said.

    "This is a step in the right direction, but it is only that. We continue to have a crisis in primary care where we cannot attract enough people, we continue to lack pay parity, and if waiting lists are not tackled urgently we will be left with too few staff even if numbers are increased.

    "The development and implementation of the overall workforce strategy through to 2026 continues to be vital if we are to sustain a health service fit for purpose through the next decade."
  • Kellie Armstrong
    11 May

    Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong has called on Departments to help improve identification of autism earlier after a report showed its prevalence within young people here had grown.

    The Department of Health's survey, which looked at school age children in Northern Ireland, stated autism's occurrence increased from 1.2 per cent in 2008/09 to 2.9 per cent in 2017/18. There was also a significant difference between genders, with males almost four times more likely more likely to be identified with autism than females.

    "This report confirms an increase in the number of children being diagnosed with autism but sadly many of those with it are not having their condition identified until they are around 13-years-old," said Ms Armstrong.

    "I worked with parents in 2016 when a petition with over 8,500 signatures asked the then Health and Education Ministers to invest to reduce assessment waiting times. While waiting times have reduced, it is still not good enough. Children should not have to wait until they have hit their teens before being diagnosed and to only then have access to appropriate health and education support.

    "Early intervention can have a vast positive impact for people with autism. This report confirms yet again investment in early years and effective cross-departmental working between Health and Education is needed.

    "Earlier this week Chris Lyttle MLA and I heard the Education Authority's proposals for early years and special education needs. Some of the proposals are positive but without funding commitments it is unlikely all of the proposals to improve the system will be implemented."
  • David Ford profile pic 2
    11 May

    Alliance MLA David Ford has welcomed publication of the UK Government's consultation on legacy aspects of the Stormont House Agreement but warned vital aspects of dealing with the past are still to be resolved.

    Mr Ford was speaking after the Government announced the document, entitled Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland's Past, will be released for consultation until September 10 and is available at gov.uk/nio.

    "I welcome the UK Government pressing ahead with the publication of this document. Victims and survivors of the Troubles are too important to have their issues kicked about and turned into point-scoring exercises," he said.

    "I am relieved there is no mention of a proposed statute of limitations for soldiers accused of unlawful killings. Such a move would not only have been contrary to the rule of law and human rights obligations, but undermined the contribution of the vast majority of those who served in Northern Ireland honourably. It also lay outside of Stormont House and would have seriously jeopardised the integrity of that Agreement.

    "However, other issues of critical importance to victims need to be resolved urgently. First, the pension for those severely injured needs to be progressed through its own consultation either directly through the NIO or via the Secretary of State asking the Civil Service to initiate. Second, the NIO need to address the funding of legacy inquests, in particular on the back of the recent High Court judgement."
  • Paula Bradshaw20172
    9 May

    Alliance Health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw MLA has said recommendations from a review of vaginal mesh surgeries here should only be the start of more thorough reform.

    The South Belfast MLA was speaking after the review found 78 per cent of surgeons did not carry out the 20 annual surgeries required by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) with 15 per cent performing fewer than five operations.

    Recommendations include surgeries should be undertaken by trained practitioners who conduct at least 20 procedures per year and data should be submitted to a recognised national audit to facilitate monitoring of results.

    "The audit provides some useful recommendations including around the level of training and specialism required. However, it is evident the audit should be only the beginning of a more thorough review," said Ms Bradshaw.

    "For example, only this week a report by a group set up by the Welsh Government stated surgery should only be used as a last resort, and emphasised the need for a more robust process of consent and a preference for a pathway based around physiotherapy. It is inconceivable Wales would be significantly different from Northern Ireland so it is hard to see how those recommendations would not apply here.

    "We also have to consider the issue of mesh used for hernia treatment for men. Therefore, the audit provides a useful starting point - but we need to be clear that is what it is."

  • Stephen Farry
    9 May

    Alliance Deputy Leader Stephen Farry MLA has said it is vital the UK Government proceeds with its proposed consultation on the legacy aspects of the Stormont House Agreement.

    Dr Farry said a renewed discussion around a potential statute of limitations for soldiers accused of illegal killings here during the Troubles was inappropriate and at odds with existing Government policy, given the UK Government was a party to the Agreement.

    "The Stormont House Agreement It is the only show in town when it comes to dealing with the legacy of the past. This was an agreement between the UK and Irish Governments and most of the main local parties.

    "The current status quo with dealing with the legacy of the past is fragmented, piecemeal, cumbersome and expensive. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive approach to address requirements of justice, truth and reconciliation. This was provided in the Agreement. Reaching this point took many years, and the process of implementation since 2014 has itself been slow and frustrating.

    "Any consultation must be focused on how the Stormont House Agreement can be delivered. It is already the established policy of the UK Government. Proposals for a statute of limitations are based on a false premise of disproportionate focus on military veterans. Everyone should be subject to the rule of law based on where the evidence leads.

    "In seeking to equate members of the armed services with those who engaged in terrorism, there is a real danger in playing into the narrative some are seeking to develop which would see police and military personnel placed on the same level playing field. While there are major questions the state needs to address, the overwhelming majority of individuals served honourably in seeking to uphold the rule of law. Any statute of limitations would also be contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

    "The NIO has already shared advanced drafts of the consultation documentation with the main Northern Ireland parties. This is rightly now much more focused around the proposed Stormont House institutions. It is now incumbent on the UK Government to proceed with this consultation, and to not allow what is actually its own policy to be unpicked due to internal difficulties."

  • Stewart Dickson
    9 May

    Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson has reiterated his party's call for a second referendum on the terms of the UK's exit from the EU, as the last Europe Day before Brexit is marked.

    Mr Dickson said while the day was being celebrated across the continent, in the UK the future of our co-operation with the EU remained unclear thanks to the UK Government's approach to Brexit negotiations.

    "While Alliance is opposed to Brexit in all its forms, we respect democracy and recognise Leave won the referendum. However, we also strongly believe Brexit is an act of enormous economic, social and political self-harm for the UK as a whole and Northern Ireland in particular. Northern Ireland voted to remain and we must recognise that, particularly given the unique circumstances of this region.

    "Neither did people vote to leave either or both of the single market or customs union. Therefore, a second referendum should be held on the terms of the UK's exit from the EU. Democracy is not a democracy unless people have the capacity to change their mind. Almost two years on from the vote, many more people now recognise the full facts and impact Brexit will have on our economy to our politics and relationships with international partners.

    "The EU has brought and continues to bring many positives to our everyday lives. From easier travel across the continent and better access to justice to free healthcare across Europe and more opportunities for our young people, that is only the tip of the iceberg on the benefits we see daily thanks to European co-operation.

    "All of that is now up in the air because of Brexit and the UK Government's approach to the ongoing negotiations. Avoiding a hard Brexit while having a special deal for Northern Ireland to reflect our circumstances can help us avoid the lasting damage Brexit will otherwise create, and the Government must realise that."
  • Paula Bradshaw profile pic 2
    9 May

    Alliance Health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw MLA has welcomed clarity over extra allocation of money to transforming the health service, saying the focus must be on primary care and community services to ensure successful transformation.

    The Department of Health said it will spend the £70 million in various areas - primary care, including GP practices, community services, workforce development, technology and prevention. South Belfast MLA Ms Bradshaw said it made sense to target areas in primary care.

    "The key issue with the development of primary care teams and focus on it, is it means fewer people will be referred on to waiting lists in the first place. Delivered correctly, this will see people access the care, medication and treatment they need sooner. That is why we must continue to make progress with the transformation process, regardless of the political position.

    "This is not a matter of figures on a page. A person on a waiting list may be a worker, a carer, a key player in the local community or in a local club - and the knock-on effect not just of the waiting list itself but of the stress and uncertainty which goes with the wait cannot be underestimated. Being on a waiting list can see a person's life put on hold - and the lives of those around them. The allocation of this money is a reflection that this requires both short-term and long-term interventions.

    "The scale of the waiting list crisis is also encouraging the development of a two-tier health service, with many people feeling they have no option but to go private while those who cannot afford that are left to wait. If we are to avoid that being permanent, we need to act not just on resourcing reductions in waiting times immediately but also on a longer term transformation of primary care to develop multi-disciplinary teams and other services at point of access to serve larger population areas. Our current set-up means we have too many people being placed on to waiting lists in the first place rather than receiving the care they need swiftly.

    "Targeted wisely, this money can begin to tackle this and thus bring down waiting times and improve the service immediately at point of access. It is important this boosts progress on the broader transformation agenda."

  • Paula Bradshaw profile pic 2
    8 May

    Alliance Health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw MLA has called for urgent action on the back of a report showing concerns about lack of training and communication around growing eye care waiting lists.

    The South Belfast MLA stated: "Waiting lists for eye care are already at a totally unacceptable level, with people being left with huge uncertainty about when they will receive vital treatment. The knock-on social costs, for example where those on the list who are carers are then rendered unable to support family or friends, are huge and provide further evidence the Health Service cannot be seen as a series of financial transactions.

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