Tag Archives: UUP

Mike Nesbitt and the wrong side of history

You can probably lose count of the number of times that politicians say they have got into politics so that they can do the “right thing”. It is a noble objective an although you may disagree with how they define the right thing you would expect them when they know what the right thing is to head that way and do it.

It is therefore a little shocking the line his speech and subsequent comments that Mike Nesbitt made in his speech yesterday at the Ulster Unionist conference about same sex marriage. Yesterday he said:

“We also need to think about the cold spot that is how we are perceived by members of the LGB&T community. What if it was your son? Your daughter? What would you want for them? What would you offer them? I hope the answer is Unconditional Love.

“Some of us support same sex marriage, some do not, and it’s part of the beauty of the Ulster Unionist Party that we can respect each other’s positions.

“I shall not labour the point today, but to those of us who cannot bring ourselves to support same sex marriage, I say this – we are on the wrong side of history. There is a new generation coming and they simply do not understand why there is a problem.”

Sorry Mike this doesn’t really get you out of that cold spot. Indeed the comment you made subsequently such as the ones broadcast on Sunday Politics that reflect that you will not be changing you own vote on 2 November, but that you don’t want this decisions on equality to be left up to the courts seem to sink you deeper into the frost.

How can you expect these decisions not to be left up to the courts when you aren’t prepared to vote for the “right side of history”? If you yourself seem unwilling to move on this issue will any of the others in your party move? The new generation is aware of how you party have largely followed the DUP on this issue. The protestant, unionist or loyalist section of the LGBT+ community and their families look at the stance that you and the UUP have taken on this issue making it look like a sectarian issue.

With the DUP’s constant placing a petition of concern on any debate on same sex marriage the fact that the Nationalist vote in the 90%+ level for and Unionist vote equally against makes them wonder where is there voice. Your answer to them in your speech yesterday was not unconditional love, you continue to place a condition upon that love, you say that civil partnerships are enough for you be happy with that, Marriage is only for a man and a women.

Yet Mike is wanting those people to come to him with unconditional support, when he denies them the unconditional love of which he talks about.

I have been to many of the marriage equality demonstrations over the years and the people there are as diverse in their background as the people of the UK. The biggest moan I hear is where is the unionist voices that are talking for unionist LGBT+ individuals in the Assembly. Yes they have strong voices in the PUP, but they are not in the Assembly where they can affect change.

Mike Nesbitt continues to stand on the wrong side of history but yesterday was trying to reach out to those who will judge what side he and his party were on. Sadly for him the people he was trying to entice don’t have short memories, nor will they forget what side of history the majority of unionism stood on this issue.

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Unionists make one a day less equal in Northern Ireland

Yesterday the Government announced that there had been 1409 same-sex marriages in the first 3 months since the legislation came into force in England and Wales allowing them to happen.

As we have mentioned many times in the past it has been the unionist politicians who have blocked similar legislation coming into force here in Northern Ireland. So how many have been affected here as a result of their intransigence?

Looking at the 2011 Census there were 1.81 million people here in Northern Ireland, this compares to 53 million in England and 3.06 million in Wales. So that gives us a formula of:

Equal Marriage sumsIn other words there could have been an extra 45.5 marriages in Northern Ireland, which would equate to 182 over a year affecting 364 people. That is one person for every day of the year that the unionists are denying the right to be married and equally British because of the sexual orientation, their choice of life partner and location of where they live.

So with every day that passes we are really adding one more person who currently is less equal that if they life in England and Wales, once similar legislation comes into place in Scotland it will mean that that individual is falling behind the whole of the UK. If the referendum in Ireland leads to it south of the border it will from everywhere surrounding us.

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Northern Ireland only part of UK without equal marriage

This evening the Scottish Parliament voted 105 for 18 against for the final stage of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill. It is far more inclusive of the whole LGBT community than the legislation that passed through Westminster last year. It has removed the spousal veto for transgender individuals and also allowed for gender neutral ceremonies for intersex individuals to be able to marry the person they love.

It is as great result for the people of Scotland and shows that by taking their time and consulting more widely than any other piece of legislation that Scotland can get this key issue right. It even has protections for those who object, who for belief reasons do not wish to carry out, or for their organisation to carry out same-sex marriages. There is a full opt in for any faith group or person of faith.

The one thing that this does mean is that my the end of this year when same-sex couples can marry in Scotland, England or Wales the LGBT community of Northern Ireland will face yet another discrimination based on them having a BT postcode.

Unlike giving blood where MSM who have abstained from male sex for 12 months can go to Britain to give blood, or with adoption where same-sex couples can adopt elsewhere and return to the Northern Ireland and still be a family, and same-sex marriage carried out elsewhere will only be considered a civil partnership when they return here.

This is one discrimination that the LGBT community of Northern Ireland cannot get around by seeking to benefit from the service elsewhere in the UK. Sure people can get married elsewhere, but that marriage will not be recognised when they come back to Northern Ireland. That marriage may even if the couple want it have a religious significance in a faith group that is willing to marry them, but when they return to Northern Ireland a place that we are told has a strong faith, that faith element will be ignored and they will only have gone through a civil experience.

While Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance, NI21  and Green parties are all in favour of equal here in Northern Ireland. The DUP, UUP along with the sole TUV and UKIP MLAs hold the key. Yet these “so called” unionist politicians have with one exception voted against allowing the same marriage rights as the rest of the UK will soon benefit from. They are denying the full Britishness of one section of Northern Ireland’s community, and they are denying it en masse.

The Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats will continue to apply pressure on these Unionist representatives to recognise the fact that they are now denying protestant, loyalist and unionist people who are LGBT their British identity. A British identity that elsewhere would allow them to marry and should have that marriage recognised anywhere in the UK.

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How did the Northern Irish Lords vote last night?

Hansard gives you a full run down of the voting of the Peers on the Amendment to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2nd reading, which would have killed the progress in the upper chamber in an attempt to kill it. It makes interesting when you look at the full range of ‘Northern Irish’ Lords and Ladies.

9 were content with the amendment, 6 not content and 11 were either absent or did not register a vote.

Those content include many of the usual suspects the DUPs Lords Wallace Browne and Maurice Morrow and Lord Robert Eames the former Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh. Some former UUP MPs and MLAs Lord Kilclooney (John Taylor), Lord Ken Maginnis and Lord Reg Empey were also in the content lobby. There were joined by Belfast born former Conservative Party Chairman Lord Brian Mawhinney, Lord Robert Carswell the former Lord Chief Justice in Northern Ireland and former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O’Loan.

Of these Lord Browne may a speech on the second day

Those not content were:

  • former First Minister Lord David Trimble (now sitting as a Conservative peer)
  • the Lib Dem’s spokesman on Northern Ireland in the Lords and Vice Chancellor of the University of Ulster Lord Trevor Smith of Clifton
  • Baroness May Blood
  • Viscount Brookborough, grandson of the a former NI Prime Minister and one of the 92 hereditary peers.
  • Baroness Onora O’Neill, President of the British Academy and Granddaughter of UUP MP Hugh O’Neill who was the uncle of former NI Prime Minister Terrance O’Neill.
  • Lord Glentoran, to many better know as 1964 Olympic 2 man bobsled champion Robin Dixon.

Those who were absent or did not register a vote included Lord Bannside and his wife Baroness Paisley and Lord Molyneaux, although the three of these political stalwarts hardly attend these days due to age and health. Lord Laird who recently had the whip removed from him for cash for lobbying work was also absent, as was Lord Dennis Rogan, considered to be the UUP leader in the Lords. Other former Lords Chief Justice for Northern Ireland Lord Brian Hutton and Lord Brian Kerr of Tonaghmore were also missing from the vote roll.

Also absent were former Trimble adviser Lord Paul Bew who is a Professor at Queens who  actually rose and spoke in the chamber later for other business, businessmen Lord Ballyedmond (Edward Haughey) and Lord Diljit Rana.

Finally Lord Alderdice was one who actually spoke in the debate but didn’t in the end vote either way. He did say that at present he was unpersuaded, but was persuadable over the issue of equal marriage. I hope he will listen to some of the comments made to him by members of LGBT+ Lib Dems NI and the local party.

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Statement on marriage equality debate

This afternoon Stephen Glenn, co-ordinator of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats Northern Ireland, sat in the gallery of the Assembly while our MLAs debated the motion from the Green Party and Sinn Féin about marriage equality. He was not alone as a large number of equal marriage campaigners were there in the hope that the DUP’s petition of concern would prove to be the only way this motion could be defeated. Sadly it was defeated by four votes even without it.

Forty five of our MLAs did vote for it, one sole unionist voice, that of Basil McCrea spoke in favour despite saying “many in my community are deeply uneasy about it”. He went on to challenge those who said we cannot redefine marriage by pointing out that our state had in the past about many reformed groups including Presbyterians. Before saying something that pretty much summed up the concept of this motion:

“Allowing one group to use a word does not diminish its use by another, and the context will be understood by all. Society accepting equal marriage does not mean that everyone has to agree with the practice.”

However, one minister speaking in a ‘personal’ capacity said the motion was ‘pointless’ and a ‘worthless course to follow’. Another, who responsibility presenting the legislation would be said “I have no intention of bringing forward any legislation to this House to facilitate gay marriage” even before a democratic vote was taken on the issue to ask him to do so.

Speaking after the debate Stephen Glenn said:

“It was great to have this debate take place in Stormont today, it is sign that we have come a long way. I’d like to praise those MLAs and parties that have taken a stance today for equal marriage and the LGBT community, even though the votes did not go in favour. I know that many have come on a long journey both individually and collectively to stand beside the LGBT community today on this issue.

“However, it is sad that a Democratic Unionist Minister should state in his speech that he would fail to act even if a democratic vote, not then taken, asked him to on this matter. While another unionist minister considered it pointless and a worthless cause. This isn’t a sectarian issue despite the petition of concern and how the vote looked today, and I’d particularly like to thank Basil McCrae and his two party colleagues for their support in the division today.

“Bizarrely, after the Covenant celebrations, it seems the unionist side is less able to debate civil freedoms without religious overtones as those that feared Home Rule would bring a hundred years ago. So even though a motion on a tough issue managed to address civil and religious freedom for all it was knocked down. In the words of Mr Wilson they have chosen a road and are unable to facilitate, or even contemplate trying to facilitate other routes.

“However, with 45 MLAs voting for we know that the pendulum of political and public opinion has swung a fair way from previous debates on LGBT issues.”

Local party chair John O’Neill added:

“It is profoundly disappointing, to the NI Liberal Democrats, and to all the people of Northern Ireland, that the Assembly has voted to reject marriage equality. The agreements which instituted the Assembly, and from which its authority is derived, have at their heart equality of citizenship. Not just across the Unionist-Nationalist dyad, but across the whole of the increasingly diverse Northern Ireland, which we all celebrate.

“It is sad that the political representatives of the first nation within the United Kingdom to institute Civil Partnerships have today rejected the obvious next step in the full equalisation of same-sex relationships. However, we are confident that, as debate on this matter continues at Westminster, Cardiff and Holyrood, this is not the last time that this matter will be addressed at Stormont. We are confident also that our MLAs will look to the decisions made in other capitals of the UK, and will not impose second-class citizenship upon the Lesbian and Gay citizens of Northern Ireland.

“Meanwhile,we will continue to work to persuade others both in office and those who elect them to achieve our party’s policy on equal marriage here in Northern Ireland, as our colleagues do so elsewhere in the UK.”

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Equal Marriage to be debated at Stormont

The Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats would like to congratulate Green Party MLA Steven Agnew, along with the Sinn Féin MLAs Bronwyn McGahan and Catríona Ruane on getting an Equal Marriage motion tabled for a plenary debate before the Assembly on 1st October. The text of the motion reads:

Equal Marriage

“That this Assembly believes that all couples, including those of the same sex, should have the right to marry in the eyes of the State and that, while religious institutions ought to continue to have the right to define, observe and practise marriage within the bounds of their institutions, all married couples, including those of the same sex, should have the same legal entitlement to the protections, responsibilities, rights, obligations and benefits afforded by the legal institution of marriage; calls on the Minister of Finance and Personnel to introduce legislation to guarantee that couples of any sex or gender identity receive equal benefit; and further calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to ensure that all legislation adheres to the Government’s commitments to promote and protect equality for all.”

We have less than 2 weeks to get writing to our MLAs to urge them to support this motion. So the Equal Marriage NI campaign is going to have a very busy two weeks. The motion contains the element of religious groups not being forced to do anything very much in line with the Alliance Party’s recently passed policy.

However, parties like the UUP and SDLP have yet to show how they will stand on such a motion. The above does maintain freedom of religion while seeking to increase equality. It is actually the first home grown LGBT motion to be discussed before the Assembly and it is calling on the departments responsible to bring forward the legislation.

There is slight worry that there was a parallel motion tabled in the name of the leader of the UUP Mike Nesbitt and his party colleague Danny Kinahan. The title for a start show a lack of understanding of the issues, theirs instead of being called Equal Marriage is called Same Sex Marriage. It reads:

“That this Assembly recognises the diverse views which are held on the issue of same sex marriage; further recognises the concerns of religious institutions with regard to changes to the current definition of marriage; and calls on the First Minister and deputy First Minister to ensure that adequate equality legislation is in place.”

It appears to be a counter motion, which only seeks to ring lock the concerns of the religious institutions without taking into account certain of the diverse opinions that it gives passing mention to at the start. Surely in recognising the diverse opinions something has got to be done about all those diverse opinions and this motion (which we do not think has been selected) will probably form the basis of the counter argument.

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Second Class LGBT Citizens once Again

With the Westminster Government announcing its consultation into equal marriage, and the Scottish Parliament currently considering the responses to its similar consultation, once again two speed UK leaves those of us who are LGBT behind in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where gay couples cannot adopt.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where men who have had sex with men cannot give blood after 12 months of no MSM sex but ever.

And now Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where there is no consultation, or apparently even active consideration of marriage equality.

We have a First Minister who is Unionist, yet his party the DUP drag their heels on equality issues when it comes to LGBT community. Yet they shouldn’t do as sexual orientation is one of the diversity groups that was enshrined in the Northern Ireland Act. Of course the fact that one of the last groups from Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act to get their own strategy, yet to be published but promised this year, is LGBT. We have one future minister even saying that those that take part in Belfast Pride to point out that we are treated as second class citizens considers us repugnant.

We have a Sinn Féin deputy First Minister whose party while sympathetic to the needs of the LGBT community have it way down their agenda. Though their Lord Mayor did take his place at the front of the Belfast Pride parade as it walked around city hall last year.

Members of the UUP, SDLP and Alliance have all be very much supporters of the LGBT Community and senior members of all three have been seen at Belfast Pride events, not just the political discussions but at the parade itself.

As far as I know, and I will happily be corrected on this, there are only two parties with an active LGBT group in Northern Ireland the Greens and ourselves. That gives a total of one MLA representing a party that has an LGBT group within it asking the questions of why as British subjects we are lagging on LGBT equality when under direct rule we were actually at the forefront.

There was a debate on the Stephen Nolan show this Monday, following the letter to the Catholic Churches in England and Wales, on the subject of equal marriage. What came across was the anger at the vast majority of religious people who called in to the show, compared to the relative calm of those in support of equal marriage (not all of them LGBT).

Maybe for the sake of the collective blood pressure of the literalists of selective verses in the Law of Moses while they happily admit Jesus did away with a vast majority of the rest, the NI Assembly should start a consultation, let everyone have their say, they carry out their impact analysis on the various Section 75 groups on the results they get.

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UUP Leader backs end of the blood ban

Tom Elliott being questioned by Noel Thompson

Tom Elliott being questioned by Noel Thompson on BBC Northern Ireland's Hearts and Minds 20 Oct 2011

On BBC Northern Ireland’s Hearts and Minds this week the Ulster Unionist Party Leader, Tom Elliott was asked by Noel Thompson some follow-up questions to his own statement on being inclusive. First up interestingly (click to view from that question) was the issue of the Democratic Unionist Party Minister Edwin Poots refusing the follow the rest of the UK in changing the terms under which men who have sex with men MSM can give blood.

Noel: The DUP Health Minister, Edwin Poots, refused to lift the ban on homosexual blood transfusions in Northern Ireland. One of your MLAs  John McAllister said that, that was “irrational prejudice”. Who was right?

Tom: Well, what I think that we need to do is look at experience. We can’t just ignore what is happening in the rest of the UK. And I must indicate, I would have thought, that the tests that you undergo, and I’m as blood donor, that once you give those tests that it can actually can define if there is anything in the blood that can’t be used for other people. So I don’t see any reason that you cannot use blood providing that it is tested beforehand.

It may not be the perfect answer, but then it is not the perfect question as it omits some of the groups that the current deferral period in the rest of the UK lifts out of the ban they currently face. Men who had sex with another man many years ago and the female partners of those men now, not just homosexuals who have not had sexual contact for some time.

But what Tom ended up saying is actually very much inline with the recently passed Liberal Democrat policy. It called for the most thorough and advanced screening process. This is now a lot quicker for HIV than the need for the current window requires. The worry is over Hepatitis B and C but these can be inoculated against. As many of those who have attended a GUM (Genito Urinary Medicine) clinic can attest these are given to MSM or anyone who attends to ensure their own sexual health. Therefore MSM who regularly get tested for STIs are actually a very safe potential blood donation grouping.

If Tom Elliott is prepared to look at what scientists are saying over the issue of blood donation, why isn’t our health minister with all his advisers? Of does he like the former Defence Secretary in Westminster take advise from elsewhere and possibly run an alternative health policy.

Today I should have had a response to my Freedom of Information request into what advise the minister had received, however I did get a rather polite letter from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety on Tuesday advising that this should instead be no later than the 17 November.  So I still await what was information the minster sought and was given on this issue.

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