Published Letters

Before I really got into blogging I was a lot more frequently read in the letters pages of newspapers. I recently came across some of my clippings file so here are the letters as published in chronological-ish subject order.

I know there are more and may add to this archive later.

On Labour and Lib Dem manifesto

13 March 2003
So, far from being unable to make tough decisions, the Liberal Democrats are now making decisions that may not just be a subject for coalition negotiation, but may go into the Labour Party manifesto. All this after the 40 improvements claimed by the First Minister, Jack McConnell, which are largely based on his coalition partners' manifesto pledges from the last election.

Now that he is talking about removing Skye bridge tolls, what other Liberal Democrat policies will his party adopt; free dental or eye check-ups maybe?

Who knows, maybe the Scottish Labour Party might even make a tough decision and call on the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, not to wage war on Iraq in its name; at least not without a second United Nations Security Council mandate that clearly warrants such action.

On Voting Reform

18 December 2002
With regard to the proposed amendment to the way MSPs are elected (your report 16 December) Brian Donahue MP is not used to the concept of power sharing, due to Labour's virtual monopoly in local government in the central belt.

Proportional representation can act as a check and balance on a party that would have almost dictatorial powers without it, so he is trying to devise ways to silence the voices of the voters in each electoral region.

Let's hope the change in the way MSPs are elected leads to a swift adoption of PR for local council elections.

19 May 2003
So far, the Labour  objectors to proportional representation by the single trasferable vote system all appear to be singing from the same song sheet. They all seem to think that having multiple members wards is bd.

However, voters are not as stupid as some Labour members seem to assume; having more than one representative is something they will come to terms with in time. Knoing the names of three or four people who will represent you gives you an element of choice.

If Labour councillors are worried about losing their seats, I see that the independent renumeration committee is going to look into seferance and pension options. So they will be well looked after should they lose out.

8 December 2003
George Foulkes MP is proposing tw MSPs for each of hte new Westminster Constituencies (your report, 7 December) but this would  only create a less proportional Scottish Parliament.

Any system of PR that involves two members is only slightly more proportional than first past the post. At a time when most people do not see the relevance of our parliament this can only further disenchant voters.

The Scottish Parliament is proposing the use of the Single Transferable Vote system in council elections. If Mr Foulkes wants to eradicate the anomoly of two tiers of MSPS - constituency members and those from the regional list - as well as different electoral boundaries for Westminster and Holyrood, surely a similar STV system is desirable. It would involve multi-member constituencies covering the area of two or three Westminster seats and would avoid introducing yet another system of voting.

Donald Gorrie MSP has proposed multi-member constituencies returning between four and seven members, each based on two or three of the new Westminster seats. Such an idea is worthy of serious consideration and would mean a far fairer systems that that which Mr Foulkes champions.

5 February 2004
I read that Paul Martin MSP thinks the Scottish electorate will never understand the single transferable vote system. I hope he is referring to the actual mechanism of counting the vote, which the average voter does not even need to understand, and he is implying that his fellow Scots are incapabe of numbering their preferences 1,2,3, etc.

If he needs assurances that STV will work for his Glasgow Springburn constituencts he need only look at Northern Ireland. There all votes, except for Westminster elections, are by STV with no adverse effects and it consistantly has one of the highest voter turnouts in the whole of the United Kingdom.

At the same time as MSPs are trying to implement greater democracy in local government and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is calling for democratic elections in Iraq, MPs on the Commons committee for Scottish affairs are attempting to largely remove proportionality from Holyrood. Two first-past-the-post constituency members plus a mere 11 list MSPs from a "national" list is a shameful retreat and a dilution of the democracy we currently enjoy.

There are other proposals out there that allow for conterminous boundaries for Westminster and Holyrood and aso do away with two tiers of representation and the confusing two ballot paper voting system.

What consideration, if any, are the Labour and Conservative parties giving to these plans? Or are they determined to maintain sizeable majorities from the minority of the popular vote?

On Voter Apathy

29 January 2003
One reason why young people may be more apathetic about voting is that more of our wolrd now appears to have the right to vote and there is less of a struggle (or at least coverage of the struggle) to have a free vote.

I turned 18 just after the 1987 General Election, so had to wait until I was in my twenties to use my first vote. Young people of that generation are now in their thirties and saw a lot of things going on which shaped their views. Many were activ in CND, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, etc.

Having worked with young people since that time, I can confirm that they are less politically active, because they appear to have lost a sense that they can make a difference.

Lowering the age of voting to sixteen may not be the full answer. Things can only be resolved by politicians listening to their constituents, especially those that do not use their right to vote.

On ID cards

17 October 2003
 There is dissatisfaction among many of the government's own backbenchers over the introduction of idendity cards. So, the support cannot even be found among party members, and there is not the overwhelming support in the country as a whole, where dissent has been voiced regularly.

13 November 2003
So David Blunkett [then Home Secretary] has suspended the ID card until 2013. Not only does this go against the cause of liberty for all, but it is also proving to be a stealthy poll tax.

To accomadate the as yet unlegislated-for ID card, we shall be paying 92 per cent more for renewing our drivers licences and 74 per cent more for our passports, so our government can gather our fingerprint and retinal information. This does not account for the fact that we are going to ahve to pay again for this compulsary card.

If it is such a necessity, why should citizens be penalised so heavily financially for its implementation? Why is it not provided free?

Mr Blunkett's cabinet colleagues are right to err on the side of caution. But they should demand that it is not merely postponed but consigned to the bin as a non-workable idea.

On the EU Constitution

 26 November 2003
Far from being a "friend of Europe", and leading from within, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, continue their isolationist, pro-American approach to the world and Britain's affairs. 

While I admit there are items in the draft European constitution which need amending, this should be done at the intergovernmental conference. Instead of using our place in Europe to effect the appropriate changes, the government is taking a Thatcherite position to veto the constitution outright.

On Monday, Mr Brown claimed that Brussels red-tape is holding back business. Yet the government's reticence over joining the Euro has resulted in Motorola and NEC closing their West Lothian factories while maintaining plants elsewhere in the Eurozone countries. Who is really holding business back? How many other Scottish and British industries will have to suffer?

He aslo urged the European Union to develop a strong economic partnership with the United States. This would be a great deal easier no doubt if the Bush administration was not imposing steel tarriffs and encouraging its own companies to work at home, not overseas.

He says Europe which works together to embrace globalisation, which the United States routinely does not. When is No. 10 going to go the whole distance, from possible veto of the EU constitution and sign up for the American one instead?

On NHS Cuts

9 November 2004
Press reports that St. John's Hospital, Livingston, might lose its maternity unit, and possibly related services, due to an inability to fill eight positions, shows the continued disregard or mismanagement Lothian Health Board is exercising to those outwith Edinburgh.

At recent public meetings across West Lothian the concensus of opinioin was that there must be no further cuts in provision of service. The news of this potential further loss to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary comes after Eddie Egan, the West Lothian convenor of Unision, tried to persuade residetns that we must accept the loss of trauma orthapaedics, emergency and complex/major surgery or else other services would be lost. It is clear that the health board is making promises to health employees that it may be incapable fo keeping.

West Lothian residents live in the fastest growing community in Scotland, yet face seeing their hospital provision cut further due to the expense faced in funding the ERI. There must be no further reduction in services. We seek a restoration of the services that have been cut, and a plan for future increase of provision to meet the needs of this expanding community.

On Edinburgh Road Tolls

24 January 2005
 In response to Sandy Smith (Letters, 21 January), as a West Lothian resident who commutes by bus, I suspect his figures for London and Edinburgh are more or less corrst. However, on current performance, I don't think our public transport will be able to take the strain if tolls do come into being - at least not by the date proposed by the City of Edinburgh Council.

27 January 2005
 The suggestion in Trevor Davies's letter on how Edinburgers can avoid paying now tell us that he admits it really is a way to fleece money from non-Edinburghers, while Edinburgh drivers will skirt the inner cordon increasing traffic congestion, pollution and danger on suburban streets.

The money will be raised from city employees who cannot afford or choose not to live in the city. As it cannot go to improving public transport outwith Edinburgh, those paying will not reap any benefit until they have already paid thier daily £2 entry fee.

Without great improvements in public transport into Edinburgh there will be no cut in congestion.

On LGBT Equality

21 August 2012

I READ in the News Letter (August 18) that Mike Nesbitt has written to UUP members asking them not to dance to the republican tune on marriage equality.

I would like to assure Mr Nesbitt that, while I want to see marriage equality in all parts of the union, I certainly am not a republican.

He also says that marriage equality has no realistic prospect of coming about in Northern Ireland.
It wasn’t that long ago we were saying that about the IRA laying down arms, or Sinn Fein and the DUP being able to share OFMdFM together, yet these things came to pass.

He carries on to say that all members of his party should be careful with their language not to offend.
His email is just the tip of the iceberg as far as offending the LGBT community in Northern Ireland is concerned.

Our so-called ‘unionist’ politicians are happy to leave LGBT people behind as second-class British subjects on issues of adoption, the blood ban and now, it seems, marriage equality.
If Sinn Fein, the Green Party, Alliance or SDLP can bring about change for an LGBT community that is neither nationalist or unionist, Protestant or Catholic, then that is the sort of tune I want to waltz off to - into a shared future.

Demand exists for marriage equality - 22 October 2012

I AM not sure how involved MP Conor Burns is with the gay community when he says there is no clamour for marriage equality.

Even the LGBTory group within his own party have been vocal in their call for this measure in support of their party leader, the Prime Minister.

When the issue was debated at Stormont, there was a show of support from within the LGBT community, both outside Parliament Buildings and in the public gallery during the debate.

And surely if there was no clamour the churches would not be rallying the troops of Christian soldiers in their pews to sign petitions in defence of ‘traditional marriage’ and condemning those in support of it as pulling society apart.

Admittedly not every LGBT person wants to get married any more than every straight person does.

But Conor Burns is either blind or deaf, or so out of touch with the reality of what the LGBT community is actually saying, to say there is no clamour for equal marriage.

Maybe it is time for him to take his head out of the sand and be honest to acknowledge that there is demand within the LGBT community for equal marriage but to state that he is not part of that clamour, that is the truth of the matter.

Economic benefit of equal marriage outweighs cost - 22 March 2014

I note that Dr Owen Gallagher takes the highly accurate figure of “many millions of pounds” in his letter (March 17) as a reason for Government to think carefully before introducing equal marriage.

However, all new legislation will incur a cost. That is why statisticians work out the impact that legislation will have.

I can only assume that Dr Gallagher is drawing his figure from the Government’s own Impact Assessment of the legislation from August last year which does indeed give a figure of between three and four million pounds as the cost.

However, this report also lists the economic benefit as well, which is put at between four to five times as much as the cost over the first ten years.

While the cost will be up front the benefits will continue beyond that 10-year period.
I would hazard a guess that by merely quoting the costs and not the benefits that Dr Gallagher’s doctorate is not in economics.

However, the costs of the introduction of this legislation are not great in the grand scheme of things.

To try and use this figure, which comes to about five pence a person, as a means to scare people is a cynical misinterpretation of the facts.

Conscience clause a mistake - 28 November 2014

I take it that Paul Givan’s conscience clause bill will have to pass an equality audit to even get to the floor of the Assembly.

Therefore anyone will be able to determine based of their personal conscience whether to serve or engage with people on the grounds of differing religious beliefs, political opinion, race, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender, disability and dependants.

This way lies chaos.

The reason we form equality legislation as a corporate entity is to protect the rights of all groups.

If Givan were to be successful there would be challenges to open up the conscience clause to every conscience that exists in our society.

Paedophiles would claim that their personal conscience allows them to abuse children, racists would say it is their personal conscience to fire bomb the houses of people of other nations, and yes atheists would say it is their personal conscience to attack and fail to serve those of faith.

There is a can of worms that Mr Givan is opening up with his (and his party’s) knee-jerk reaction to a seeking to clarify the legal position before such a decision is made.

He is actually potentially opening up those he intends to protect by his narrow mindedness to not being able to seek protection from any attack, from any source as his libertarian approach on conscience is subjective and not objective like current equality legislation has to robustly be.

Conscience clause a bid to deny protection to gay people - 12 December 2014

I read Rev Kirkland's letter (11 December) with dismay. He claims it is right to bring balance to an unbalanced provision with the conscience clause.

The Sexual Orientation regulations within the Equality Act in 2006 were the means to bring that balance to a then unbalanced provision. This conscience clause is step back to how things were for LGBT people in Northern Ireland before that time. It was the reason I and many other LGBT people left Northern Ireland as soon as we were able as adults to find more tolerance in Britain.

However, this conscience clause uses some pretty strong language and some pretty open interpretation of three key words. It states:
"Nothing in these regulations shall make it unlawful to restrict provision of goods, facilities and avoid endorsing, promoting or facilitating behaviour or beliefs which conflict with the strong held religious convictions."

I not that this is added solely to the Sexual Orientation Regulations and not the Equality Act as a whole. So matters of conscience that the bible mentions far more than same-sex relationships are clearly not a matter of conscience that people of faith want to restrict provision to. This therefore makes it only an anti-LGBT change to the Equality Act.

But what is meant by endorsing, promoting and facilitating those beliefs and behaviour?

Part of most people's behaviour is to go out and enjoy a meal in a restaurant. Are a same-sex couple enjoying a romantic dinner to be turned away by restauranteurs for they are endorsing same-sex romance?

If I walk into a store wearing a Pride T-shirt could I be refused service as the owner would not want to be seen endorsing Pride and the LGBT community?

Could a Christian landlord throw an LGBT person or couple out from their flat as he does not want to facilitate what he thinks is happening under his roof, while he legally cannot do the same to an unmarried couple without just cause?

This is not about the conscience of those of faith, as some of them are actually supportive of LGBT people, this is blatant direct discrimination that actually removes the balance in the Equality Act.

It is giving people of faith the right to come up with a reason to refuse one group protected under the act, that is LGBT people, goods, services and facilities with full protection under the law.

LGBT People want to be able to marry the person they love - 27 May 2015

With the equal marriage referendum result in the Republic it is now time to look at what rights people in Northern Ireland are afforded as enshrined in the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

Firstly as we are allowed to identify as British or Irish or both the impact of the decision by 62 per cent of the people in the Republic does, as similar legislation in Scotland, England and Wales before it, impact on how the majority of the people chose to identify here.

Also Section 75 and Schedule 9 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 placed a statutory obligation on public authorities in carrying out their various functions relating to Northern Ireland, to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity.

This includes between people of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation. Northern Ireland is already failing to recognise the marital status of all marriages carried out in the UK, by only allowing those who have had a same sex marriage to be recognised as civil partners.

On Saturday night after the result of the referendum and Eurovision there were LGBT people who identify as British or Irish or both out and about on and near Union Street all delighted with the result. But we need all our politicians whether they be Unionist, Nationalist or Other to uphold their statutory obligations.

There are different political beliefs and religious beliefs into whether same-sex couples should enjoy the ability to marry. Though if you were to look at the voting record and speeches made in Stormont you would not believe it.

But now the British LGBT, Irish LGBT or Bothness LGBT here are calling out to have the same equality of opportunity as anyone else who hold their passport or passports. The law to allow them to marry the person they love.

On Edwin Poots wasting public money - 25 October 2013

Conall McDevitt retired from public life over failing to declare £6,000.

Edwin Poots has wasted many times that amount of public money in a futile attempt to prevent unmarried and same-sex couples from adopting.

Can we expect a public-spirited withdrawal from public life?

Or will he carry on wasting public money on legal appeals?

Being British is allowing gay couples* to wed - 10 February 2014 

SCOTLAND has shown that legislation to allow equal marriage for the LGBT community can, at the same time, allow the religious freedoms of others not to practise same-sex marriage – either as a registrar, or within their church – to be respected.

It now leaves Northern Ireland as the only part of the UK where same-sex marriage will not be happening before the end of this year. Even worse, any such marriage that takes place elsewhere in the UK will not be recognised, should the couple move here.

The so-called 'unionist' parties are always going on about how they need to protect their British culture. However, with the exception of a very small number of unionist politicians, the Protestant, unionist, loyalist LGBT community is not being represented in Stormont, nor is their Britishness being respected.

Marriage law costs warning a 'scare' tactic - 24 March 2014
I NOTE Dr Owen Gallagher takes the accurate cost figure of "many millions of pounds" as a reason for the Government to think before introducing equal marriage.

I can only assume Dr Gallagher is drawing from the Government's impact assessment of the legislation from last August, which gives a figure of £3m-£4m.

However, this report also lists the economic benefit, which is put at four or five times the cost over the first 10 years.

To try and use this figure (about 5p a person) to scare is a cynical misinterpretation of the facts.

DUP had change to support ad different vote - 28 May 2014

It is distressing to hear the DUP talking about electoral pacts for Westminster in light of their talk, last week, of a "split unionist vote".

Especially when, not that long ago, they could have backed a system that would have allowed that vote to be transferred.

But while I was leading the campaign for the Alternative Vote referendum here in Northern Ireland, they were saying "AV does not treat all votes equally".

I have to ask the DUP: how does slicing up the Westminster seats between it and UUP not disempower voters? Voters will prefer one of those parties over the other and some who vote for one may not want the other. It is a pity the DUP has realised the error in its ways – three years too late.

 Equality should be just that and not selective - 4 September 2014

It appears that your correspondent Equality for All (Write Back, August 28) is slightly misnamed and is only Equality for Some.

The community partnership award from Belfast Pride is, like the other eight awards, voted for from a shortlist by members of the LGBT community.
The winners of this year's community partnership, the Equality Commission, unlike your correspondent Equality for All, says on its website: 
"Our powers and duties derive from a number of statutes which have been enacted over the last decades, providing protection against discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, race, religion and political opinion, sex and sexual orientation. We also have responsibilities arising from the Northern Ireland Act 1998 in respect of the statutory equality and good relations duties which apply to public authorities."
So, yes, one of the groups that is there to provide protection against discrimination is satisfied with the work it has done and at a community award ceremony decided to say thank you for the work it has done and continues to do. I advise Equality for All to come out of the shadows of anonymity and actually become a real advocate for equality for all in our wee country. Who knows, maybe some day he/she will be up for the Pride Advocate of the Year award.

It is all about power (my title not the one used) - 25 November 2014

Dermot O'Callaghan (Writeback, 21 November) may have a point that the whole issue over the cake that Ashers refused to bake is all about power, though the problem is that the people exercising the power are not necessarily the ones that he claims are abusing it.

From 1967 until 1982 the LGBT community in Northern Ireland were fighting to be equal with those in the rest of the UK. In the end it took court action for the decriminalisation here and in Scotland to catch up with the rest of the UK. Looking at the debate in Westminster back then you can see the level of power and privilege that our elected representatives largely, but not exclusively, unionist had when they decided it was their right to keep gay men in Northern Ireland less equal to those in the rest of the Union they held so dear.

Now after only two decades of moving towards equality with other UK LGBT people we are once again falling behind. Once again it is the unionists that are saying that we cannot be equal.

While DUP ministers continue to argue with scientists and lawyers that their evidence and rulings cannot possibly be right for the LGBT people of Northern Ireland - though they are for the rest of the UK and Ireland - then yes the whole Ashers situation is actually about power.

The fact is that not all of us are equal with people of similar background, race, disability and sexual orientation with the rest of the Union. If we were, then we wouldn't need to campaign for equal marriage, we wouldn't need to rally for it outside City Hall or Stormont and we wouldn't need to get cakes made to back our campaign, but we would need far more wedding cakes.

When it comes to equality, we are still way behind -1 December 2014

This letter is somewhat edited to I am including the cuts from the original in red especially as sadly I think some of the editing makes it look like a Christian baiting letter.

I would like to thank Dermot O'Callaghan (Write Back, November 28) for proving my point about those with privilege here holding all the power over equality.

Sadly, we have seen those with privilege down through history continually not being prepared to open up equality to those without it - whether it was slave-owners giving all men freedom, landowners giving all men the vote, or the established Church giving rights to non-conformist churches, or to other faiths. Men giving women the vote, rights to people of race, giving Roman Catholics the same voting rights as Protestants.
Now we see people proud to be British in all aspects but LGBT equality parading their flag, but ignoring the fact that they keep some British people as second-class citizens while, once again, things move on elsewhere.
Mr O'Callaghan says that all of us in Northern Ireland have the same rights and prohibitions as to whom we may marry. If by this he means that I may marry someone of the opposite sex, I feel it would be unfair to her as, at some point in the future, she would realise that I am not attracted to her. This would leave only hurt in the wake. Surely he would not want me (or any other lesbian or gay individual) to do that to someone else?But this is what has happened all too often in the past.
My original letter did not focus solely on equal marriage, which seems to be the only hang up for Mr O'Callaghan, but also referred to the science denial over the continuation of the MSM life time blood ban and the legal appeals against that and same-sex couples adopting. Issues that are designed to help others and give something to society. We are falling behind on equality measures not only with the rest of the country we belong to but also the the rest of the island we exist on.

What has been considered equality has been extended numerous times through history, what has happened in England, Wales and Scotland is just another manifestation of that. 

Many people here want to be treated fairly because of their faith, but use that to prevent others from being treated fairly.
Jesus spent time with those religious leaders considered unclean and told the parable of the Good Samaritan. He showed what equality really is about.

Villiers naive to assume people still still content with the border situation in aftermath of Brexit poll - 28 June 2016

Last Thursday a clear majority of voters in Northern Ireland took a differing view from the overall outcome of the referendum on remaining within the EU.
Yet within 24 hours of the settled situation on both sides of the border being within the EU (which the majority here supported) and without further polling, the Secretary of State said that the "majority of people in Northern Ireland are content with the political settlement established under the Belfast Agreement and Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom".

Firstly, the Belfast Agreement is heavily reliant on the European Union and its institutions and the United Kingdom, at the time of establishing that agreement, didn't look like leaving the same European Union it joined on the same date as the rest of this island.
Many who had previously supported the settled situation, from both nationalist and unionist points of view, did so under differing political and economic situations; the vote last Thursday has shattered those conditions and people are reviewing their opinions.

There are a number of people here who also consider themselves "small u" unionists. Many call themselves "economic unionists" from the time when Ms Villiers' party were last in outright power and neglected spending on jobs and infrastructure in Northern Ireland (much of that shortfall was later made up by EU peace funding).

I do not feel that Ms Villiers can state categorically that how people would have voted in a border poll last Wednesday is the same as they would vote today. Last Wednesday I personally would have voted to remain part of the UK; today I would vote to reunify the island of my forebears for economic, liberal and stability reasons.
Northern Ireland and same-sex marriage rights - 29 May 2015

The equal marriage referendum result in the Irish Republic (Report, 25 May) means we should look at the rights of people in Northern Ireland under the Northern Ireland Act 1998. First, people can identify as British, Irish or both, so the decision by 62% of the people in the republic does, as similar legislation in Scotland, England and Wales before it, impact on most LGBT people here. Section 75 and schedule 9 of the act placed a statutory obligation on public authorities in carrying out their functions, to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, including between people of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation. Northern Ireland is already failing to recognise the marital status of all marriages carried out in the UK, only allowing those who have had a same-sex marriage to be recognised as civil partners.

On Saturday night, after the result of the referendum and Eurovision, there were LGBT people of all identities out and about in the LGBT area, all delighted with the result. Now we need all politicians, whether they be unionist, nationalist or other to uphold their statutory obligations. With different political and religious beliefs on whether same-sex couples should enjoy the ability to marry, these need to be reflected. Now the British, Irish or Bothness LGBT communities are calling out to have the same equality of opportunity as anyone who holds their passport(s): for the law to allow them to marry the person they love.  

* not my use of words.

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