Full report on differing PSNI responses to protests needed

A full report on the PSNI response to a protest outside Belfast City Hall compared to Black Lives Matter protests last week needs to be given, Alliance Policing Board member John Blair MLA has said.

Several hundred people gathered outside City Hall yesterday (Saturday) to participate in a ‘protect our statues’ protest. Following the event, PSNI confirmed no arrests were made or fines issued. According to police, a ’significant number’ of fines were given out at last week’s Black Lives Matter protests in Belfast and Derry-Londonderry.

“The PSNI has a challenging job and receives support from the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, including Alliance, in its role of upholding the rule of law,” said Mr Blair.

“But accountability is a vital part of modern policing here and questions need to be asked about the seemingly different approaches to these two protests. The Chief Constable is responsible for operational policing matters and I have now raised this matter with the Policing Board, asking for a full report on the matter.

“People should not be gathering in large groups in the midst of a pandemic. They are putting into risk not only their own lives, but the lives of others. However, the PSNI needs to apply a consistent approach to all such protests or else they risk damaging the community confidence in the organisation, particularly from ethnic minority members of our society.”

Resources for tackling Climate Change must not be scaled back

Alliance Environment spokesperson John Blair has described the decision by DAERA to scrap £1.5 million earmarked for tackling climate change as unacceptable.

Speaking after the latest Committee meeting, the South Antrim MLA said regardless of other plans that may or may not be in place, this was a specific commitment in New Decade New Approach and it’s exclusion without much debate was “unacceptable”.

John said: “whilst lockdown has been an extremely stressful situation for many, a clear positive we can all agree on has been the positive impact on our environment. As we move forward to our new normal this must include steps to protect, enhance and protect the positive changes our environment has witnessed to date.

“In is therefore completely unacceptable that the Minister would move to reduce any monies earmarked to help in the fight against climate change – we need more resources and bodies working on this crucial issue, not less.

“This has not gone unnoticed and I questioned the detail and potential consequences at the meeting. The public expects us to do all we can to fight climate change, so I’ll be raising this issue with the Department and pushing for a key commitment that less funding will not impact the current level of work on the issue.”

Backing for calls for greater support for sheep and beef farmers

Alliance Environment spokesperson John Blair has backed calls to ensure adequate support is put in place for sheep and beef farmers, as the recovery phase of Covid-19 begins.

He said: “The sectors in question face an extremely tough time, especially as they seek to ensure safe and continuous food chains remain in place. This is further affected by the downturn in the tourism and hospitality sector, which has caused a serious ripple effect.

“I am previously on record as having called for a full, varied support package to be put in place for our farmers and want to see this progressed to the full – especially as we need our food chains to be fully able to respond to the lifting of lockdown restrictions.

“While this has not been fully forthcoming, it is now essential that we get things moving and I would have hoped for greater flexibility within the current Covid-19 DAERA package to meet emerging need over the coming weeks and months, something I have been pushing for in recent weeks.”

Brexit process must be extended, says Blair

Alliance MLA John Blair has reiterated the Party’s call for an extension to the Brexit implementation process, adding such a move was “essential” as self-imposed, unfeasible deadlines where was approaching.

Speaking in the Assembly, Mr Blair said the challenging timeframe of just one year was always going to be tough to meet – made all the more difficult by the on-going coronavirus pandemic, making the already rushed through process impossible to deliver.

He added: “It was always going to be hard to negotiate comprehensive future relationship agreement in just one year. Coronavirus has meant all focus has been turned to dealing with the crisis, but this leaves an extensive list of questions surrounding Brexit unanswered.

“Yet, time has continued to pass and self-imposed deadlines loom ever closer. An extension to the transition period is, therefore, essential, to ensure that any systems and mechanisms put in place are workable and have been thought out and scrutinised to the best of our collective ability.

“It’s been clear to many for some time that new infrastructure will be required to check goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain – a concession the UK Government finally acknowledged last month, leaving it until only a few months before the supposed end of the transition period to even acknowledge their necessity.

“With limited detail, this issue alone is enough to seek an extension so any measures can go through a series of checks before the green light is given – and that’s even before we think about her future immigration policies will impact our agri-food industry.

“Extending the transition period is the only way to give us time and breathing space to create mechanisms to minimise the impact of leaving the EU and to reduce economic and social disruption.”

UK Government needs to step in with rescue package for airports, says Blair

The UK Government needs to step in with a rescue package for local airports, Alliance MLA John Blair has said.

Mr Blair was speaking after Belfast International Airport told staff to expect voluntary redundancies, after management warned it did not see air travel ‘returning to pre-COVID-19 levels for a few years’. It is estimated up to 45 employees would be lost out of the workforce of 195.

“First and foremost, my thoughts are with those staff members who will be made redundant. I hope they receive every bit of support they are entitled to to enable them to re-enter the workforce as soon as possible,” said the South Antrim MLA.

“Airports serve a vital function in connecting our lives regionally and internationally, both in terms of the rest of the UK and also across the world. This crisis has been devastating for everyone but particularly the local aviation industry. It is essential for the economy airports are able to increase their capacity again quickly as soon as it is safe to do so.

“A financial support package from the Executive and UK Government for Belfast City Airport and City of Derry Airport has helped them. It’s now time the Government steps in and helps the industry further mitigate against the effects of this pandemic by taking a number of actions, including scrapping domestic air passenger duty, which disproportionately impacts Northern Ireland and establishing additional key routes from Northern Ireland to recognise the importance of the region.

“These measures would support the local economy, while helping prevent further job losses at the International Airport, something which would have a major negative impact, across South Antrim and beyond.”