McDONNELL MOURNS LOSS OF DEAR FRIEND-TK WHITAKER

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Mary McAleese, TK Whitaker and Dr. Alasdair McDonnell

MP for South Belfast Dr Alasdair McDonnell has said he is deeply saddened at the passing of one of Ireland’s greatest economic and political minds-TK Whitaker. 

Speaking following his death yesterday Dr McDonnell said:

“TK Whitaker has been a seminal figure in Irish life for the past century. He played an absolutely pivotal role in improving economic standards of living across the Island of Ireland. We are all deeply saddened at the passing of someone who has helped shape modern day Ireland as we know it.

In the North we should be particularly grateful for the interest TK Whitaker showed in our troubled past and for his help in moving us along the road to peace and greater prosperity. TK Whittaker wrote a policy document in 1971 called ‘A Possible Solution’ which effectively became the very basis of the Good Friday Agreement almost 30 years later-for that we are eternally in his debt.

TK Whitaker has received many plaudits and awards over the years which were richly deserved. I was delighted that the SDLP arranged a special tribute lunch in Dublin for him in October 2014 which was supported by hundreds of key friends and supporters.

Only last month TK Whitaker reached his 100th Birthday-a milestone celebration for a man who devoted his life to improving the outlook and circumstances of every citizen right across the Island of Ireland. We are much poorer today for his passing-but take heart and inspiration from his incredibly rich legacy of work.”

PROPOSED REMOVAL OF RATES CAP IN NORTHERN IRELAND BY MINISTER MÁIRTIN O’MUILLEOIR

DO YOU WANT YOUR HOUSEHOLSD RATES BILL TO INCREASE?

This will happen under the proposals put forward by South Belfast MLA and Finance Minister Máirtín O’Muilleoir.

His plan, which he describes as the “biggest shake up in rating policy in a generation” includes a removal of the existing rates cap.

The current rating system caps the rateable value of household properties at £400,000, but the Minister wants to do away with this cap. This means that any homes with a value over £400,000 will now be subject to rates levied on any potential value over £400,000.

If you feel you could be affected by the proposed changes, please join us at 7pm on Monday 16 January 2017 in the Wellington Park Hotel.

Please see below the leaflet I have been distributing throughout South Belfast.

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REPRESENTATIONS MADE TO GOVERNMENT ABOUT DEMOLITION OF BEDOIUM VILLAGE OF UMM AL-HIRAN IN SOUTHERN ISRAEL

In late November 2016, I was contacted by a large number of constituents concerned about the proposed demolition of the Bedoiun village of Umm al-Hiran in Southern Israel.

In response to the concerns raised with me I sent an urgent letter to the Foreign Secretary, Rt. Hon Boris Johnston MP (see below).

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Umm al-Hiran was established in 1956, after its residents were displaced by Israel from Khirbet Zabaleh.

Following a long legal battle, bulldozers were due to enter the village and demolish it.

In my letter I asked that the Government make urgent representations to the Israeli Government and encourage them to lift the threat of demolition.

I received a response (see below) from Tobias Ellwood MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State responsible for relations with the Middle East.

As you can see from the letter the planned demolition of Umm al-Hiran was raised with the Israeli Ambassador on the 23 November 2016.

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Istanbul Convention: Private Members Bill – Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill

A Private Members Bill was brought before the House of Commons by Dr. Eilidh Whiteford MP and called on the Government to commit to a timetable of ratifying the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty which has been described as the “gold standard” of legislation for gender-based violence.

On Friday 16 December 2016, I attended the debate and with the other two SDLP MP’s voted for the Bill that would ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women.

Whilst I was unable to speak on the Bill, I was delighted to vote in favour of it and was glad to see the Bill successfully progress to the Committee Stage.

If the Bill is passed, the UK Government will be obliged to guarantee funding for shelters, rape crisis centres, helplines and education in schools on healthy relationships.

The UK was involved in the development of the legally binding pan-European treaty; however, despite signing the Istanbul Convention in June 2012, the Government has yet to ratify it, making it legally binding.

I can assure you that the SDLP MP’s will continue to support this Bill.

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Prior to the debate, I also raised a written Parliamentary Question on the time taken to ratify the Istanbul Convention with the Secretary of State for the Home (Home Secretary), see the question and reply below.

Question:

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what assessment she has made of the effect of the time taken to ratify the Istanbul Convention on women who have experienced domestic, sexual, emotional and financial violence in the last four years. (56493) Tabled on: 07 December 2016

Answer:

The Coalition Government signed the Istanbul Convention in 2012 to show its strong commitment to tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG), and this Government remains absolutely committed to ratifying it. Given that in most respects measures already in place to protect women and girls from violence comply with, or go further, than the Convention requires, time taken to ratify the Convention has not impacted on women who experience violence and abuse. Our cross-Government VAWG strategy sets out our ongoing commitment to tackling these crimes, and is underpinned by increased funding of £80 million. The Government has already taken extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) for female genital mutilation and forced marriage, but before the Convention is ratified we need to take ETJ over a range of other offences. We will seek to legislate when the approach to implementing ETJ is agreed and Parliamentary time allows.

 

THE COMMITTEE ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT

Alasdair travels to Dublin every other week to sit on the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Over the past number of months the Committee have been hearing evidence on the implications of Brexit for the Island of Ireland.

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On Thursday 15 December the Committee heard how border regions would be adversely effected by uncertainty over border control and other issues. Witnesses included Peter Conway, Waarenpoint Harbour, Michael Blayney, Autoline, Conor Patterson WIN and Newry Chamber.

EU WITHDRAWAL AND ITS IMPACT ON GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT

On the 25 October 2016, I asked the Prime Minister Theresa May about EU withdrawal and the impact it would have on the Good Friday Agreement and the 1998 political settlement.

Alasdair McDonnell “The Prime Minister will be aware that much of the foundation and many of the elements of the 1998 settlement and peace agreement in NortheAlasdairNIQJune112014rn Ireland were referenced and rooted in EU approaches and processes of laws and that leaving the EU will significantly destabilise the foundations of that settlement. Has the Prime Minister given any consideration to the extent of the potential damage the withdrawal from the European Union could do to that Good Friday/Belfast agreement and the 1998 political settlement? Does she have any plan at this stage to protect that settlement?”

The Prime Minister “There is no reason to believe that the outcome of the referendutheresa-may-mpm will do anything to undermine the absolute rock-solid commitment of this Government and the people of Northern Ireland to the settlement that was set out in the Belfast agreement.

There is, and remains, strong support for the entirely peaceful future for Northern Ireland. That has been determined by democracy and consent. We remain committed to that and to work with others to ensure that entirely peaceful future.”

 

PRIME MINISTER REITERATES POST-BREXIT BORDER PLEDGE

On the 12 October 2016, I asked the Prime Minister Theresa May a question about post-Brexit border controls.

Alasdair McDonnell “The Prime Minister will be aware that the soft border between NortherDr-Alasdair-McDonnell[1]n Ireland and the Irish Republic was vital in boosting the economy of Northern Ireland. Does she understand the confusion that has set in, and that many of us feel? On the one hand, the Government define their intention tightly to control the free movement of people and labour, yet on the other they assure us that that border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will continue to be open. Does she see the contradiction for many of those directly affected, and whose jobs are affected?”

The Prime Minister “I have been clear, the Secretary of Stare for Northern Ireland has beetheresa-may-mpn clear, and the Taoiseach has also said that, on both sides of the border, we do not want to see a return to the borders of the past. It is worth reminding the House that the common travel area has been in place since the 1920s, so it was there well before we were both members of the European Union.

We are working with the Government of the Republic, and I have had discussions on this with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that we do not see a return to the borders of the past.”

You can check the media coverage of the PMQ at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-37638019

 

‘BREXIT -WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?’ PUBLIC MEETING

Following the shock and fallout from the EU Referendum vote on 23 June 2016 Alasdair hosted a debate in the Wellington Park Belfast called ‘Brexit-Where do we go from here?’ to allow South Belfast constituents to have their say on the outcome.

Our panellists included Economist Susan Hayes Culleton, Steve Aiken MLA and Dr Lee McGowan.

Constituents continued to contact Alasdair right across the summer. Many were deeply concerned about their children’s future prospects, their standard of living and their security and safety in a post-Brexit era.

We held a meeting in the Wellington Park Belfast on 15 September 2016, which followed on from our previous public meeting on 4 July 2016. Constituents presented their views in a passionate and robust fashion.

Our panellists included Philip Smith MLA and Dr David Phinnemore from Queens University Belfast.    Alasdair committed to working with people from civic society, the business world and other politicians to ensure that we get the best deal possible for Northern Ireland during Brexit discussions.

BREAKFAST TO DISCUSS EU REFERENDUM

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Alasdair brought together a list of business interests from across Northern Ireland to discuss the European Referendum in the Malone Lodge Hotel, Belfast on 17 June 2016. Tragically Alasdair’s Parliamentary colleague Jo Cox was murdered the previous day in an attack which sent shock waves right across these Islands. Jo’s bravery and commitment to do what was right is something that has inspired Alasdair.

At our breakfast meeting we held a minute’s silence and Alasdair said a few words about Jo.

Coming just one week before the EU Referendum vote, this meeting allowed business interests to discuss how a British withdrawal from the EU would affect the economy here in particular. Alasdair was joined by other panellists, Steve Aiken MLA and Jim Nicholson MEP.

 

BREXIT PUBLIC MEETING – BELFAST

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On 22 March Alasdair held a meeting on the European Referendum in his South Belfast Constituency in the Wellington Park Hotel. A panel of experts addressed a packed room of constituents and other attendees.

The panel included Angel Mc Gowan (Economist), Dr Muiris MacCarthaigh (lecturer in Politics and Public Administration QUB), John McGrane (Director General of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce) and Fearghal McKinney MLA (SDLP Deputy Leader). Panellists set out what the likely consequences of Brexit would mean for people living in Northern Ireland.