Tuesday, 27 May 2014

North Belfast News - wrong AGAIN!

The North Belfast News is the paper that just keeps getting it wrong and the recent edition of Saturday 17 May was no exception.  

North Belfast News journalist Evan Short wrote an article about the closure of St Kevin's Luncheon Club in North Queen Street.  In the first paragraph of the article he stated:
TORY cuts as part of welfare reform have closed a cross community lunch club that has served as a vital lifeline to pensioners for the last 25 years. 
Then in the third paragraph he wrote:
The club manager Pat Anderson found out last week that due to welfare reform the organisation that employed them through a training scheme was no longer able to offer positions.
Later on in the article he said:
Liam Maskey from Intercomm said he was very disappointed that they couldn't continue with the funding but the reform of welfare had made it impossible.
Three times in the article it is stated that the closure of the luncheon club was caused by welfare reform, in spite of the fact that welfare reform has not been implemented in Northern Ireland.  In fact 'Tory welfare cuts' have nothing to do with the closure of the luncheon club.  so let's set the record straight.

There have been no cuts to the funding of community services in Northern Ireland because of welfare reform and it is important that we do not cause concern to people that the reform of the welfare system is impacting on funding for community services.  The two are totally separate.

Moreover the proposed changes to the social security system in the Welfare Reform Bill (NI) 2012 are still being considered by the Northern Ireland Assembly and have not yet been implemented here.  So if they haven't been implemented how could welfare reform be the cause of the closure.

Reading through the article and trying to make some sense of it, it seems that the club was run by Intercomm and that they employed staff through a training scheme for which funding is no longer available.  In that case Intercomm have lost a contract to another provider and it is nothing to do with welfare reform.  This was probably a DEL contract and had nothing to do with DSD, which deals with welfare and welfare reform. 

I know you can't believe everything you read in the press but in the case of the North Belfast News it might be better to ask, can you believe anything?

The closure of the club will be a blow to those senior citizens who have attended it and it is deeply regrettable but the cause of the closure is in no way connected to welfare reform.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Landlord Registration Scheme

Last year I introduced a new Landlord Registration Scheme in Northern Ireland.  It was launched in February and by the end of the years all landlords are required to be registered.   This is one of a number of initiatives to improve the private rental sector and it follows on from the tenancy deposit scheme.

Until the introduction of this scheme each council collected information about landlords in their council area, but many private landlords have properties in a number of different council areas and the information was not easily accessible.
A centrally held register of private landlords will:
  • allow tenants, neighbours and local councils to identify if landlords are registered
  • provide information on the number of landlords in Northern Ireland and allow landlords to receive regular updates on the duties and responsibilities of landlords and tenants
  • provide education and support to landlords
It will improve tenants’ confidence in their landlords and increase landlords’ accountability by:
  • promoting good practice
  • ensuring appropriate advice and assistance is available
So far 4,446 landlords have registered and while there are many more still to register this figure is sufficient to provide some sense of the nature of the rental market.  Around 95% of the landlords live in Northern Ireland with only 132 having an address in Great Britain and another 81 being outside the UK, probably in the Irish Republic.  I have sometimes heard it said that a lot of landlords were from the Republic but the figures show that not to be the case.  The percentage of landlords from outside the UK is less that 2% and that includes not only the Republic but anywhere outside the UK.

We are still at an early stage of the scheme but by the end of the year all landlords will have to be registered and we can then get a more accurate understanding of the rental market.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

What is North Belfast? An office or a constituency

For years nationalists and republicans have quoted the social housing waiting lists for the North Belfast Housing Executive office, rather than for the North Belfast constituency, in spite of the fact that the NIHE office only covers part of the constituency.
However more recently the Housing Executive has provided figures for the North Belfast constituency and they present a very different picture.  They showed, for example, that on 31 December 2013 there were 1994 Protestants on the waiting list and 1988 Roman Catholics.
Nationalists and republicans have claimed that this is an attempt to dilute the figures but that is simply nonsense.  There are three good reasons for using the North Belfast constituency figures. 
  1. 1. Most people are familiar with the constituency and when we talk about North Belfast that is what they think of.  The North Belfast NIHE office is simply an administrative unit.
  2. 2. By using the constituency figures we include rather than exclude.  This is not about dilution but about inclusion.  Why should people living in Woodvale, Mid-Shankill, Rathcoole, Rathfern, Rushpark, Queen's Park and Glenvarna be ignored when we consider the social housing need in North Belfast?
  3. Politicians across Northern Ireland want information on the basis of the constituencies they represent.  Between April 2012 and May 2014 there were 176 questions asked in the Northern Ireland Assembly about Housing Executive figures and of these 143 related to the Parliamentary and Assembly constituencies, 19 related to council areas and only 14 related to NIHE office areas.  Assembly constituencies - 81%; Council areas - 11%; NIHE offices - 8%.  Those figures speak for themselves.  MLAs prefer to have answers on the basis of their constituency areas and that is the case across Northern Ireland.
That is now recognised by the Housing Executive and so while information on waiting lists will stil be available at a more local level, down to Common Landlord Area, the primary focus for figures will be constituencies.

Oh and as regards the North Belfast constituency the waiting list on 31 December 2013 was 1994 Protestants and 1988 Roman Catholics with the remainder not designating as either.

Empty Homes

While out around the doors I came across a number of empty homes.  Some of them were fairly obvious with overgrown hedges that stretched across the pavements and overgrown gardens. 

Others may not be as obvious but there are signs on the inside such as a hallway with a mountain of leaflets and circulars piled up behind the letterbox.

Moreover there are plenty of them about.  I know of two houses in the Ballysillan area that have lain empty for the past 20 years and another for 10 years.  I can think of another in South Belfast that was bricked up and had been empty for so long that there was actually a tree growing out of it.

So what can be done about this problem?

You may not be aware that I introduced a DSD Empty Homes Strategy and Action Plan 2013-2016 to tackle this problem.  An empty home can easily become a blight attracting illegal dumping and anti-social behaviour, and it is certainly a missed opportunity to provide a family with a new home.

You can report an empty home to the Empty Homes Unit in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive by telephone on 03448920900 or by visiting www.emptyhomesni.com
Nelson McCausland and local residents
in Fortwilliam Parade
The unit is maintaining a database of all empty properties that it is made aware of from whatever source and the webpage has been in operation since 1 April.

This work involves the NIHE, local councils, Land and Property Services and the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations.  It also involves the general public and you can play your part in helping to remove blight and provide good homes.  So keep a lookout for empty properties in your area and report them to the Empty Homes Unit.  They can then check it out to ascertain the ownership and they will see what can be done.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Mairtin O'Muilleoir and the wee union flags

I came across this paragraph from Newton Emerson in the Irish News (25 January):
Belfast's Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Mairtin O'Muilleoir has hosted a 'civic forum on poverty', although there is nothing Belfast  City Council can do about poverty, including waiving its own rates (not that such a thing would ever be contemplated).  Citing 'the extreme poverty associated with food banks' O'Muilleoir said, 'we spend a lot of time in the city of Belfast talking about flags'.  This was an audacious statement from a man who famously complained about union flag labels on food in his local Sainsbury's.
So the next time Mairtin O'Muilleoir tries to present himself as the statesman who 'rises above such petty things as flags', just remind him of the little union flags he objected to in Sainsbury's.

Now there's someone who doesn't find it hard to be offended. It comes very naturally to the Sinn Fein councillor.  It seems that a union flag the size of a postage stamp is too much for him to stomach..

Saturday, 17 May 2014

More bile from Jude Collins

That nasty little man Jude Collins has taken up his poisonous pen again this week to write his column in the North Belfast News (17 May).
The column is based on a recent meeting between members of the DUP and David Cameron.  Cameron invited the party leader and the MPs to meet him in Downing Street and it was an invitation they accepted. 
The invitation and the acceptance should not surprise anyone.  David Cameron is the prime minister of the United Kingdom and since the DUP is the fourth largest party at Westminster it is both right and natural that there should be meetings such as this.
Of course this was enough to excite the fevered mind of Jude Collins and he went on to speculate about the content of the conversation.  We do know that Libyan compensation for the victims of IRA terrorism was on the agenda.  Libya was a major source of weapons and explosives for the Provisional IRA during their terror campaign.
However Collins made no mention of that and his great concern was that 'marches' might have been on the agenda.  Here is how he described the Loyal Orders:
a group of men who, in the name of culture, get together annually with other men and dress up before emerging to disrupt life for everyone else.
a group of people whose motto is 'Not an inch' and whose cultural expression includes urinating outside Catholic churches.
This is I assume a reference to an incident that took place in September 2012 when a bandsman urinated in the street outside St Matthew's in East Belfast.  Subsequently the Orange Order described the incident as 'outrageous and unacceptable' and sent a representative to apologise for the behaviour of the bandsman.  The chairperson of the Confederation of Ulster Bands also apologised for the incident.  Surely that should have been an end of the matter but no, not in the fetid mind of Jude Collins.
Last weekend in Newry several men removed wreaths from the war memorial and threw them into the Clanrye River.  At least one of the men also urinated over the war memorial.  Subsequently two men were arrested and will appear in court.  Of course it is not the first time that such a thing has happened.  Earlier this year a man named Patrick Peter McIlroy, of Cromwell Street, Belfast, was convicted of urinating on a wreath at the war memorial in Lurgan.
Since Jude Collins believes that Orange 'cultural expression includes urinating outside Catholic churches' does he also believe that Irish cultural expression includes urinating on war memorials?  I await with interest his column on the incident in Newry.
Of course, at the end of a week in which republican slogans were painted on an Orange hall, does Collins also believe that Irish nationalist cultural expression includes defacing Orange halls?
With the North Belfast News providing its readers with a weekly diet of Jude Collins is it any wonder that we have such a long way to go to build better community relations in the north of the city?

Dee Fennell - "what an eejit!"

On Friday 11 April I was at the Marrowbone pitches off the Oldpark Road and it was the first time I ever encountered Dee Fennell, who is standing as an Independent Republican in the Oldpark area in the forthcoming local government elections.
Fennell has a leading role in the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC), a group of extreme republicans who oppose all Loyal Order parades down the Crumlin Road.  He is also a member of the Sean MacDiarmada 1916 Society, one of a number of small extreme republican groups in Ardoyne.
As I was leaving the park and crossing the road back to my car Fennell appeared and proceeded to engage in an incoherent  republican rant.  He didn't say who he was but I had seen his picture in newspapers and recognised him.

It was only a short distance to the car and it only took a couple of minutes but he walked along beside me every step of the way shouting at me.

He also left a rather rambling letter for me but omitted to put his address on it.  How does he expect anyone to reply to his letter if he doesn't put an address on it?
As I listened to his rambling and incoherent rant I just thought to myself, of a little response which appears in both Ulster-Scots and Ulster vernacular, 'What an eejit?"
However as I recalled his role in relation to parades I also thought, "What a dangerous and malicious eejit?"  And this is the sort of person who leads the  Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective.

Sammy Cusick of the Republican Network for Unity is also standing in Oldpark, and they are competing against each other for nationalist and republican votes, as well as competing against Sinn Fein and the SDLP.  Of course Fennell and Cusick represent just two of the extreme republican factions in Ardoyne.  There are also the IRSP and Erigi.  Such are the divisions and differences within extreme republicanism.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Patrick Murphy - the Irish News' resident cultural bigot (3)

A few days ago I posted in response to an article by Patrick Murphy in the Irish News.  Since then I came across an old article by the same writer, in which he made another attack on unionism and also attacked the Ulster-Scots language.
It would take more than one post to respond to what he said in that earlier article but my attention was drawn particularly to this section.  Indeed the editor of the Irish News thought it so important that he put it in large bold type at the centre of the article. 
Sinn Fein and the SDLP agreed to what was a cultural war crime - the creation of Ulster-Scots.  US scriptwriters invented the fictional language of Klingon to promote the Star Trek television series.  Ulster-Scots is Klingon with a Ballymena accent ...
Ach ye wudnae hae a gleed o wut.  There's mair nor yin leid in Ulster, and there's mair nor twa forbye!
In case you thought that the cultural bigotry espoused by Patrick Murphy was a temporary aberration, you can dispel that thought.  He was at it in 2009 and he is still at it in 2014.
It might have been hoped that in the period between 2009 and 2014 Patrick Murphy might have developed a better and more mature understanding of culture but sadly that has not been the case.  His cultural bigotry, which was there in 2009 is still there in 2014.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Psalm 23 in Ulster-Scots

Psalm 23, the Shepherd psalm, is one of the best known passages in the Bible. 

It was translated into Ulster-Scots, in metrical form, by Dr Philip Robinson, and Darren Gibson included the first few verses of this translation in his Ulster-Scots column in the NewsLetter on Saturday.
Tha Loard's ma herd, nae want's A'll hae.
He lays me doon tae bide.
In fiels o gress: he taks me safe,
Alang tha watter side.
Ma sowl he aye pits richt agane;
And gars me fur tae traik
Alang tha strecht, richt-leeving pad,
Jist fur his ain name's sake.
Tha mair A waak throu daith's dairk glen,
Yit A'll no fear ocht ill:
Fur thou art wi me an thy cruik
An staff, gies comfort still.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Sinn Fein object to new Rathcoole housing!

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive is planning to build more houses in Rathcoole.  They have built a number of houses in the estate in recent years but their figures show that there is still a significant waiting list for Rathcoole.  It is a popular estate and last year there were 255 applicants in housing stress for the Rathcoole common landlord area.

As a result the NIHE plans to build 20 houses this year in Deerfin Park and Derrycoole Way and, 10 more in Iniscarn Way and Loughmoney Park the following year and a further 20 in the Derrycoole and Eastway area the year after that.  That makes a total of 50 new houses and that will go some way to meet the need.

However the building of social housing to meet some of the need in a unionist community has clearly angered Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Chuilin.

In the North Belfast News (10 May) she complained that the Housing Executive were building too many houses in Rathcoole.  That criticism is nasty, mean-spirited and sectarian.  In fact when the Housing Executive responded to her claims they pointed out that she had got her facts and figures wrong but then that is not unusual.  Sinn Fein seem to adopt the stance of 'never let the facts get in the way of Sinn Fein propaganda'.

She also attacked my statement that at the start of the year there were 1,994 Protestants on the waiting list in the North Belfast constituency and 1,988 Roman Catholics.  Those are the Housing Executive's own figures but because they weren't the sort of figures she wanted she rejected them.  Here again it is a case of  'never let the facts get in the way of Sinn Fein propaganda'.  For years they have talked about waiting lists and then when the real truth about waiting lists is explained they want to ignore them and move the argument on to something else.

That is why the DUP has been repeating the real facts about social housing in North Belfast.

I debated this issue during the week with Alex Maskey on the Nolan Show on Radio Ulster.  I was able to present the facts about waiting lists and waiting times but he seemed to have no interest in the facts.  He simply wanted to keep on repeating the republican mantra of discrimination.  Nevertheless it was a great opportunity to disseminate the facts to a province-wide audience and to expose the false propaganda of the SDLP and Sinn Fein.

Then next Tuesday my DUP colleagues William Humphrey and Paula Bradley will speak in an adjournment debate at Stormont, tabled by the DUP, on social housing in North Belfast.  After the other North Belfast MLAs have spoken, I will be able to respond at the end of the debate.  I look forward very much to that debate and a further opportunity to nail some of the myths and lies.