Education and enforcement key to turning the tide on water quality, says Blair

Alliance Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Spokesperson John Blair MLA has welcomed further actions to tackle poor water quality in Northern Ireland announced by DAERA Minister Andrew Muir

Speaking during his appearance in front of the Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs Committee, the Alliance DAERA Minister reiterated his commitment to a four-pillared approach to improve water quality, as well as detailed further action on enforcement.

Mr Blair said: “It is clear the approach outlined by the Minister at the Committee is the correct course of travel and he is right to focus his efforts on education, investment, regulation, and enforcement.

“Whilst we must inform people on water quality through education and incentives, there also needs to be an adequate deterrent if we are to take the bold action required to turn the tide on our water quality. The severe problems with blue-green algae in Lough Neagh will not be addressed otherwise.

“The Minister’s plans around enforcement will be significant, including reversing his predecessor’s decision to cap cross-compliance penalties. I have long raised the issue of cross-compliance and welcome the fact that the Minister shares my deep concerns and has taken decisive action on this matter.

“This move will be further bolstered by the review of fines and penalties, also announced at the Committee, and with the Department working closely with Justice Minister Naomi Long. This will be supported by the twenty-strong enforcement team that is being set up in the Lough Neagh catchment area. It is only right that the polluter pays principle is applied to ensure environmental crime is treated with the seriousness warranted.

“I would now urge the Executive to work with the Minister to ensure that the Report and Action Plan for Lough Neagh is agreed and can progress at pace. Going forward, the Minister must be financially supported and I hope bids during monitoring rounds will be treated favourably.”

Blair condemns murder in Antrim

Police have announced they have launched an investigation after the discovery of a man’s body, following an incident in the Craighill area of the town. A 31-year-old man has been arrested.

“I am shocked at this murder and I know people across the local community will be deeply disturbed by it,” said South Antrim MLA Mr Blair.

“My thoughts are with the loved ones of the victim, who have been left grieving following this appalling act.

“I urge anyone who has information on this incident to contact police with it immediately.”

Blair welcomes national report on police-perpetrated violence against women and girls

Alliance MLA John Blair has welcomed the publication of the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and College of Policing review of themes, learnings and recommendations on police-perpetrated violence against women and girls (VAWG).

The review has been published as part of a national police framework to improve the response to violence against women and girls. Police forces were asked to conduct an urgent review of sexual misconduct, domestic abuse and other VAWG-related offences against officers and staff and to share their learning with the NPCC and College of Policing. The review includes recommendations for improving the handling of police-perpetrated violence against women and girls.

“I welcome this progress, as well as other more recent commitments from the PSNI to tackle VAWG, but I want to hear more from the police about what wide-ranging reforms they are going to introduce to pursue offenders who commit so called ‘lower level’ sexual offending, when we know they are often a precursor to more serious crimes against women,” said Mr Blair, a member of the Policing Board.

“Perpetrators don’t go out and kill without any prior indication they are a danger to women and girls, which was the case with Sarah Everard’s murderer and similarly the killer of Libby Squires, who was known to have indecently exposed himself in a pattern of abuse which escalated to murder.

“As far as they can, the police must ensure a serving police officer never rapes and murders a woman again.”

Blair welcomes PSNI violence against women and girls strategy

Alliance MLA John Blair has welcomed the launch of a PSNI strategy aimed at reducing violence against women and girls.

Between 2017 and 2021, 34 women and girls across Northern Ireland were killed by men. Policing Board member Mr Blair said more needed done to tackle the issue.

“To end male violence against women across these islands, we have to face up to the magnitude of the threat, and recognise it stems from the inequality and power imbalance between men and women in society,” he said.

“This formal action plan will help establish a society where women are safe and free. Building trust and confidence in policing is a key theme, which includes a review of vetting processes. It should also be welcomed the provision of safe spaces is a fundamental in this strategy.

“All public bodies, not police alone, have a crucial role to play here. Women are entitled to feel safe in every space, public and private, but particularly at home. The horrifying statistic shows there is a report of domestic abuse every 16 minutes in Northern Ireland and 34 women have died as a result of a violent attack between 2017 – 2021.

“Policing is part of the solution, and the violence against women and girls strategy is vital. It is now crucial a renewed Executive violence against women and girls strategy is brought forward for the next seven years. I am pleased the Department for Justice and Department of Health are already working on this.”

As the cost of living bites, rural communities will be hit hard, says Blair


As the cost of living crisis bites, those living in rural communities will be hit hard, says Alliance MLA John Blair.

“Whilst poverty and social isolation exist in both urban areas and rural areas it is widely recognised that those living in rural areas often experience poverty and social isolation differently due to issues relating to geographical isolation, lower population density, reduced public services and the dispersed nature of many rural settlements.”

“Living in a rural area can also exacerbate the effects of poverty and social isolation for certain groups. For example, additional costs of living in a rural area such as higher fuel or transport costs could have a greater impact on people on low incomes while some groups such as young people or people with disabilities may experience greater difficulties accessing transport services in rural areas than in urban

“Rural homes are also much more likely to be reliant on costly oil for their heating – another cost that has rocketed – and they also tend to be less well-insulated.”

“The cost of living has been increasing across the UK since early 2021. Prior to soaring inflation and energy hikes, rural households across Northern Ireland were already experiencing poverty and financial vulnerability, and these households will be hardest hit and leave many more rural dwellers in poverty.”

“Insecure employment, lack of access to services and higher transport costs in travelling to access both services and employment, often with no public transport available, are top their issues which the incoming Rural Affairs Minister must address.”

“Rural issues seem to be much less visible than in the past, but I am determined to keep these key challenges on the agenda to address the acute hardship being faced by Northern Ireland’s rural communities.”