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  • 1 PM Thursday

    Alliance representatives have called for the requirements of the agri-food sector to be central to a special deal for Northern Ireland in the event of Brexit.

    Speaking from the Balmoral Show, Party Brexit spokesperson Stephen Farry MLA and Agriculture spokesperson David Ford MLA said the sector was of central importance to the local economy, representing around 10 per cent of activity and providing over 80,000 jobs.

    "The profile of our economy is significantly different from the UK as a whole and therefore highlights very clearly the importance of a strong local voice in Brexit negotiations," said Dr Farry.

    "If Brexit does happen, Alliance wants to see an outcome in which the UK as a whole remains in a Customs Union with the EU and at least Northern Ireland continuing to participate in the Single Market. This configuration is fundamental to the future of local economy overall and in particular the agri-food sector."

    "There are four main challenges facing the sector," said Mr Ford.

    "Maintaining open and frictionless borders across these islands and with Europe is one - both access to markets and supply-chains on this island need to be protected. Secondly, access to labour, including EEA Nationals, must be preserved. There is an existing heavy dependency on the free movement of labour.

    "Existing frameworks around regulation should also remain in place. Northern Ireland's product is high quality and standards around food safety are of central importance. Lastly, there needs to be a revised system of farm support, including the UK Government providing sufficient resources outside those provided through the Barnett Formula in recognition of our much greater reliance on financial support from the EU relative to other parts of the UK."
  • last Monday

    South Antrim Alliance representatives has welcomed plans to halt plans for an Arc 21 Waste Incinerator at Mallusk.

    Recognising the efforts of local campaign group NoArc 21, David Ford MLA said the Court decision meant that there was an urgent need to clarify the ability of either the Secretary of State or the Civil Service to take decisions affecting the future of Northern Ireland.

  • last Saturday
    In The Newsletter

    In last week's News Letter Weekend supplement, Sandra Chapman said problems on the border can be solved by technology ('Are Brexit rows leading to insecurity and mayhem?' May 4 2018).

    As Minister of Justice for Northern Ireland, I saw how a small number of people are already exploiting the difference in tobacco and fuel tax.

  • David Ford MLA Pen
    last Friday

    Alliance MLA David Ford has welcomed publication of the UK Government's consultation on legacy aspects of the Stormont House Agreement but warned vital aspects of dealing with the past are still to be resolved.

    Mr Ford was speaking after the Government announced the document, entitled Addressing the Legacy of Northern Ireland's Past, will be released for consultation until September 10 and is available at gov.uk/nio.

    "I welcome the UK Government pressing ahead with the publication of this document. Victims and survivors of the Troubles are too important to have their issues kicked about and turned into point-scoring exercises," he said.

    "I am relieved there is no mention of a proposed statute of limitations for soldiers accused of unlawful killings. Such a move would not only have been contrary to the rule of law and human rights obligations, but undermined the contribution of the vast majority of those who served in Northern Ireland honourably. It also lay outside of Stormont House and would have seriously jeopardised the integrity of that Agreement.

    "However, other issues of critical importance to victims need to be resolved urgently. First, the pension for those severely injured needs to be progressed through its own consultation either directly through the NIO or via the Secretary of State asking the Civil Service to initiate. Second, the NIO need to address the funding of legacy inquests, in particular on the back of the recent High Court judgement."
  • David Ford MLA
    30 April

    Alliance South Antrim MLA David Ford has welcomed the announcement a local fishery will be one of the venues hosting the 18th Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships.

    Straid Fishery in Ballyclare will be one of the venues for the event in September.

    "I would like to congratulate Ray McKeeman and his team at the Straid Fishery for securing the championships and bringing them to Northern Ireland for the first time," said Mr Ford.

    "This event is going to bring people from across the Commonwealth to South Antrim and will be a boost to our local economy.

    "It is a great sign Northern Ireland continues to play its part on the international stage and comes on top of the work already being done by the team at Straid in encouraging people to get outdoors and get active through angling.

    "I want to wish them the best with their preparations in the months ahead."

  • David Ford MLA Pen
    25 April

    David Ford MLA has welcomed the impending publication of an inter-Departmental report which recommends changes in abortion law here.

    The working group on fatal foetal abnormality, set up before the election in May 2016, will recommend the 'law be changed to provide for termination of pregnancy where an abnormality is of such a nature as to be likely to cause death either before birth, during birth or in the early period after birth'. The full report will be published by the Department of Justice and Department of Health today (Wednesday).

    Mr Ford, who attempted to bring changes to the law when Justice Minister, said it was long overdue.

    "The report provides full justification for the actions I took as Minister of Justice to allow abortion in cases where the foetus has no prospect of a viable life. I believe that would have eased the trauma some women go through every year, though - of course - any such decision would have been for the individual woman based on a full medical assessment.

    "Unfortunately, the Executive blocked my proposals, which were based on firm evidence from a detailed consultation process. The question needs to be asked of how many women have suffered since I made a promise to Sarah Ewart I would try to change the law some years ago.

    "While we unfortunately have no Executive currently in place to take this forward, I believe we now have irrefutable evidence of the need to legislate to allow women in Northern Ireland to access abortion in the traumatic circumstances where they are given a diagnosis a child will not survive."
  • David Ford MLA
    22 March

    Alliance MLA David Ford has welcomed the establishment of a specialist domestic violence court in Derry-Londonderry.

    The Domestic Violence Perpetrators' Programme will work with offenders to modify their behaviour, aiming to reduce reoffending and encourage more victims to come forward. Around 30 offenders will take part in the nine-month pilot programme.

    "The new arrangements for a problem solving domestic violence court follow on from the work done by Mr McElholm, the district judge, in arranging separate sittings of his court for domestic violence cases," said Mr Ford.

    "When I visited the local courthouse as Minister of Justice, I heard about the benefits achieved, allowing social workers and support groups such as Women's Aid to make better use of their time.

    "This new arrangement will allow for closer involvement by judges in cases before a perpetrator is sentenced. I have personally discussed with judges in New York and in London how this can reinforce the work of probation officers and social workers in helping to rehabilitate offenders and better protect the community.

    "I am pleased we are now seeing the first such specialist court operational in Northern Ireland and believe it will benefit the victims of domestic abuse and the wider community by reducing re-offending.

    "I congratulate all those involved in this initiative - the Lord Chief Justice, Mr McElholm and his judicial colleagues, the Probation Board and local probation staff, and officials from the Department of Justice. I look forward to the establishment of other specialist courts across Northern Ireland to meet the needs of our community."

  • David Ford MLA Pen
    14 March

    Alliance MLA David Ford has called on the DUP and Sinn Féin to clarify they will record all Departmental meetings in any future Executive, after the Head of the Civil Service said meetings with the parties' Ministers were not minuted to prevent embarrassment of the parties.

    David Sterling told the RHI Inquiry the meetings were not documented in case they were later subject to requests under the Freedom of Information Act as it may have shown "things that might have been unpopular being considered".

    Mr Ford, a former Executive Minister, said it was not standard practice for Ministers.

    "There was an understanding when any meetings happened, particularly when policies were decided upon, the Freedom of Information Act applied and any discussions were discoverable. It appears that was not the case in these instances.

    "If there was a policy by the two biggest parties to not have matters record, there was a duty on the Civil Service to say that is not how the Civil Service operates and things must be recorded. Informal discussions can happen but meetings when policy is being decided should be on the record. Potential embarrassment on behalf of the Minister or party cannot be used as a reason to not record something or subsequently release it if requested.

    "There needs to be an agreed record of the decision taken and the basis on which it was done so. That's the way things have been done in my experience and that's the way they should be done across every Department. But it appears it was not the case in Departments under the control of the DUP and Sinn Féin - where things were decided and nothing recorded as to why. Those two parties need to clarify whether any reformed Executive would be subject to the same draconian approach by Ministers more interested in saving their own skin than being transparent to the public."
  • David Ford MLA
    8 March

    Alliance MLA David Ford has welcomed a High Court ruling that the former First Minister's decision to block funding for a plan to deal with legacy inquests was "unlawful and flawed".

    Ex-Justice Minister Mr Ford was speaking after a High Court judge said Arlene Foster's decision, that £150 million allocated as part of the Stormont House Agreement should await the outcome of an overall package dealing with all legacy issues, was wrong.

    "As Minister of Justice, I worked with the Lord Chief Justice to give additional funding for legacy inquests and the justice agencies with responsibility for supporting them. However, my request for the then Executive to access Treasury funding was never tabled for Executive consideration, as the former First Minister was opposed to it," he said.

    "Today's ruling is welcome and makes it clear Arlene Foster's decision to refuse funding was motivated by political considerations. While the money will not deal with all inquests, it will get the ball rolling and bring many families closer to justice for their loved ones.

    "Alliance has always argued the funding should go ahead, irrespective of political agreement. It is now up to the Secretary of State to work with the Department of Justice and Lord Chief Justice to get the process going, a process which should have begun over two years ago."
  • David Ford MLA Pen
    1 March

    Alliance MLA David Ford has called for the inquiry into undercover policing in England and Wales to also cover activities in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

    The inquiry is investigating the activity of undercover officers, their conduct and impact of their activities. The Scottish Government has now called for it to be extended there.

    "When I was Minister of Justice I called on the Home Secretary to allow the inquiry to also consider actions of undercover police officers from England and Wales who were infiltrating environmental groups which were active across the UK. The Home Office refused to extend the inquiry to the whole UK," said Mr Ford.

    "It is becoming increasingly clear the actions of police officers were carried out continuously across the entire UK, and indeed into the Irish Republic. It is not tenable to say the inquiry must stop taking evidence when undercover officers got on a plane or a boat.

    "The groups infiltrated were not terrorists but environmental campaigners whose views are now mainstream. It is entirely legitimate to question the activities of both the officers responsible and those who directed them. This applies across the whole country.

    "Confidence in policing requires openness and transparency. Nowhere is this more important than in Northern Ireland. I join the Scottish Justice Secretary in calling for the inquiry's remit to be extended and am writing to the Home Secretary, calling on her to act."