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Equality or Freedom of Expression?

Cake and eat it

Editorial

This morning Jeff Dudgeon along with MIckey Murray were interviewed on ‘Good Morning Ulster‘  (click the link for the discussion which starts about 2hr 12 minutes into the programme) in relation to a statement issued by Peter Thatchell regarding his current thoughts on the Asher Cake case, which is being reviewed as we speak.

The interview lasts about 8 minutes, and in the main followed lines previously discussed.  However I believe we all have our own opinion, and also because of the review ruling due from the courts which as Jeff, indicated the judgement will probably be looking at the following points of law:

  • Freedom of Expression etc.

  • Equality

we should await the judgement.

I will draw the attention of everyone to the following extract taken from an artile on the ifex website:

 

“The Camden Principles demonstrate that the rights to equality and freedom of expression go hand-in-hand and mutually reinforce each other, and that neither one of these indispensable human rights can be achieved at the expense of the other,” says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director. “They uphold the key principles of universality and indivisibility where too many have tried to impose exceptions and hierarchy.”

ARTICLE 19 launches the Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality

 

Further reading:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The DUP are risking a great deal in blocking equal marriage

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Siobhan Fenton

northern-ireland-assembly[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s fair to say that Northern Ireland isn’t exactly a trail blazer when it comes to social justice issues. Long after England, Scotland, Wales and finally the Republic of Ireland voted to legalise same-sex marriage, the country continues to lag behind.

However, this changed yesterday as Northern Ireland finally voted yes to same-sex marriage. A cause for celebration, you might think, but same-sex couples won’t be booking into registry offices any time soon. Despite the bill being supported by 50.5 per cent of MLAs, it still cannot pass due to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) blocking it.

This has happened because under the devolved Stormont parliament, political parties can trigger a “petition of concern” to block legislation in the chamber. Once issued, it means that a bill cannot just get a simple majority vote overall, instead it needs to get a majority amongst Nationalist or Catholic politicians, as well as a majority amongst Unionist or Protestant politicians.

Many of the DUP’s leading politicians are staunch traditional Protestants who are fierce in their opposition to what they term “sodomites” within Northern Ireland. They are resolute in their determination to block LGBT rights through any means possible, no matter how underhand or undemocratic.

Although they were unable to stop same-sex marriage being approved by a majority, the DUP were able to stop it from being approved by a majority of Unionists by triggering the petition and then voting no themselves. This technicality meant that today’s vote cannot count and Northern Ireland will remain the only part of the UK or Ireland without marriage equality.

The “petition of concern” mechanism is thought to be unique to Northern Ireland’s political structures and was embedded in power-sharing to protect either side of the religious divide if a bill was genuinely harmful or unjust towards either ‘side’. However, the DUP have begun misusing the process in order to block same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Today’s vote leaves Northern Ireland in a difficult position in terms of democracy. It will have significant repercussions for the nature of devolution and the relationship between Westminster and Stormont.

Westminster will now have to consider whether to intervene to circumvent the DUP’s petition in order to enable Northern Irish same-sex couples to finally marry. If they do not do so, they will be accused of letting the DUP’s bully tactics triumph and of allowing the Northern Irish LGBT community to suffer.

Yet, if Westminster does intervene, it will also face accusations of undermining the principle of devolution- that Northern Irish issues are for Northern Irish politicians alone to deal with.

Above all, the incident is yet another example of how power sharing structures negotiated in the 1990s are showing their strain. Whilst they might have proved effective elements of the Assembly in its infancy, “petitions of concern” are being misused by politicians to undermine the business of their own parliament. As Stormont’s near collapse in September proved, a number of elements of the Good Friday Agreement and Northern Ireland Assembly are proving to no longer be fit for purpose and are doing more to impede than support democracy in the province.

Donation not discrimination: allow gay men to give blood

The Oxford Student

1st November 2015Adam Hilsenrath

 

Anyone who has donated blood will know that the minutes spent in the (oddly comfortable) chair, watching a small bag fill up with blood constitutes a tiny fraction of the entire process.

12193337_952130414846791_1702033846832314153_n-300x199Before you are sat down, you are tested for anaemia and must fill in a lengthy health questionnaire. The first section on the form, entitled “Your Lifestyle”, is mainly about one thing: HIV.  Whether you’ve had sex with a prostitute or with anyone from a country where HIV and AIDS are widespread, the National Blood Service doesn’t want your blood if there’s a chance of you having HIV. This, most would agree, is an understandable and efficient way of preventing donations from people with infected blood.

Yet it is the final two questions about “Your Lifestyle” which come across as archaic, nonsensical and bordering on the discriminatory.

In Great Britain, men who have had sex with men (MSM) in the last 12 months cannot give blood. Full stop. In Northern Ireland, no MSM can give blood at all, regardless of how recently they’ve had sex.

From one perspective you can see a semblance of logic. The United Nations estimates that between two and 20 percent of MSM are infected with HIV, though, clearly, in somewhere like the UK the percentage will be at the lower end of the scale.  In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that MSM accounted for 61 percent of all new HIV infections, and of the nearly 800,000 people worldwide living with HIV, 51 percent are MSM. Considering that estimates on the non-heterosexual population range from four percent to ten percent, and that over half of these are women, this does point to a much greater chance of MSM having HIV compared with anyone else (about 60 times more than other men).

Furthermore, HIV can take, depending on the number of antibodies the body produces, about three months before it’s detectable. In about three percent of cases this can take up to six months, meaning that HIV-infected blood could be donated without anyone knowing (a serious problem considering that National Blood Service usually keep blood for only seven weeks). The focus on HIV is further understandable when it’s considered that other sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhoea, can be detected within a matter of weeks.

However, that’s about as far as the logic will go.  There are, on the other hand, many reasons why current practice is flawed.

Firstly, even if the 12 month window was kept to ensure that no one was inadvertently donating blood with HIV, under the current system there’s no space for those MSM who’ve had protected sex. Condom or no condom, MSM cannot give blood. On the other hand, heterosexual men, or any woman, can donate blood even if they sleep with a new partner every night without any protection.

Secondly, MSM in long-term relationships are also excluded. Two men who have been exclusively dating for years can often have unprotected sex, sure in the knowledge that neither man carries STDs and is unlikely to acquire one. But again, under present regulations there is no “I am in a long-term, exclusive relationship” box, and so blood cannot be donated.

Thirdly, sceptics might argue that some vindictive people might knowingly donate HIV-infected blood and that, because MSM are more likely to have HIV anyway, all MSM donations should be prohibited. If we, for a moment, ignore the crass offensiveness of this argument, one should bear in mind that anyone vindictive enough to donate HIV-positive blood would show up on the blood tests done automatically on all donations (because if they know they have HIV, then it’s already passed the three-sixth month period).  What’s more, good-natured MSM who want to donate blood can already lie if they know they’re HIV-free.

At present, we are operating on decades-old blanket assumptions, which unnecessarily bar certain individuals from making a valuable contribution to society.  Research on the correlation between MSM in long-term relationships and rates of HIV possession is yet to be done.

There is a simple remedy. If the law were altered so that any MSM who has either been in a relationship as long as the 12 month waiting period or has had adequately protected sex could donate blood, then the system would still prevent the possibility of HIV donations without unnecessary levels of discrimination.

It has been tried before. Michael Fabricant, MP for Lichfield, has campaigned on a number of occasions for such a legal amendment, but has always lacked support, though I can’t understand why. This is not only an issue of discrimination, but also of public health and liberty.
The current law is fundamentally outdated and homophobic, and at a time when blood stocks are low and the NHS in constant need of donations, it is irresponsible that people who want to save the lives of others are not allowed to do so.

IMAGE/ Mattbuck

Northern Ireland assembly votes to legalise same-sex marriage

Historic vote will not trigger change in law, however, as Democratic Unionists use parliamentary veto to block motion

Michael McCartan and Malachai O’Hara
Northern Ireland’s assembly have voted in favour of marriage equality: Michael McCartan, left, and Malachai O’Hara, who had pledged to invite assembly members to their wedding. Photograph: Amnesty International/PA

Northern Ireland’s assembly voted narrowly in favour of gay marriage equality but the largest party in the devolved parliament, the Democratic Unionists, have since vetoed any change in the law.

Four independent unionist assembly members joined nationalists and others with 53 votes in favour of same sex marriage – just one vote ahead of the main unionist parties who oppose any reform.

But the motion in the regional parliament fell after the DUP used a “petition of concern” to argue that the law change that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Northern Ireland did not command sufficient cross-community support.

Under the complex rules of power sharing in the region, parties from either the unionist or nationalist community can use this mechanism if they feel there is not enough backing from Protestants or Catholics for particular legislation. It was designed to ensure no one community dominated the other following the 1998 Belfast agreement.

Amnesty International said on Monday it was ironic that a mechanism established to ensure the rights of minorities in Northern Ireland had been used to deny a fundamental right to the LGBT minority in the province.

The DUP veto means that Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK where gay couples cannot get married legally. The party is heavily influenced by the socially conservative Evangelical Christian community, particularly the Free Presbyterian church, which was founded by the late DUP leader, the Rev Ian Paisley.

In an often fractious debate inside the Stormont assembly, there were a number of trenchant attacks on the notion of gay marriage equality from the unionist benches.

Jim Allister, leader of the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice, said same-sex couples getting married was a “perverse definition” of marriage. Allister said the gay marriage equality campaign was a “worked-up phoney demand for rights”.

The latest attempt to legislate for gay marriage was introduced in a joint SDLP-Sinn Féin motion to the house. Sinn Féin’s Daithí McKay noted that the three Ulster counties in the Republic of Ireland “all said yes to marriage equality” in the recent referendum there. He said recent opinion polls showed 68% of people in Northern Ireland were in favour of a change to the law.

Among those assembly members who changed their mind to vote in favour of same-sex marriage this time around was the Alliance party’s Trevor Lunn.

He told the parliament that he had been “on a journey” and had listened to his LGBT constituents and their families, and was now persuaded voting yes was the right thing to do.

Before Monday’s vote, gay couples handed out invitations to the weddings they were planning to have if the legislation had passed through without any veto.

At least three LGBT couples are planning legal action to challenge the same-sex marriage ban, pledging to take the fight to the European court of human rights if necessary.

Dr Richard O’Leary, of the Faith in Marriage Equality group, said Northern Ireland’s image as a backward society had been reinforced by the continued ban on equal marriage. “As a vulnerable, peripheral region fighting for its economic life in the teeth of a global depression, the message we risk sending out about Northern Ireland is that it is a region stuck in the past, out of touch with the cutting edge of global society,” he said.

“We should be honest – our history and the religious roots of our communal divisions mean we already suffer from a serious image problem. It is entirely possible that within a few years, Northern Ireland could find itself the last significant jurisdiction in western Europe where same-sex marriage remains prohibited and on the ‘wrong side of history’.”.

In the four previous votes attempting to bring in gay marriage reform, there have been narrow majorities against change. In April, the margin was only two votes against.

  • This article was corrected on 2 November. We originally referred incorrectly to Alliance Party assembly member Trevor Lunn as Stephen Lunn. That has been changed

Gay blood donation: Thirty men turned down over sex ban

 

 

 

 

Whole Blood

The NIBTS has stopped 30 men from donating blood at their clinics since 2011 after they said they had sexual contact with other men

 

Thirty men have been stopped from donating blood at clinics in Northern Ireland because they have had sexual contact with another man, a BBC investigation has found.

Elsewhere in the UK, there is a one-year deferral period for men who have had sex with men (MSM) to donate.

Northern Ireland has an outright ban.

But a judge ruled that former health minister Edwin Poots did not have the power to retain that ban. His ruling will be appealed in court later.

In the Northern Ireland Appeal Court on Monday, the current on-off health minister, the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Simon Hamilton, is appealing the judgement, alongside Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

They shall be asking who is in charge of blood policy and whether or not this is a devolved issue. The appeal is expected to last four days.

Screened

Following a Freedom of Information request, BBC News NI has seen emails sent between Northern Ireland’s Department of Health and the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS), which is responsible for the collection, testing and distribution of blood.

The NIBTS also said it had stopped 30 men from donating blood at their clinics since 2011 after they informed staff that they had sexual contact with other men.

The BBC asked the NIBTS how confident it would be that its blood is screened correctly and that it would be safe for MSM to donate after the one-year deferral period.

It said: “All blood donations are subjected to the testing regimes required by the Blood Safety and Quality Regulations 2005.

“As such, NIBTS is confident that all blood samples are screened correctly.”

Direction

The BBC has also seen instructions sent to the NIBTS from Dr Elizabeth Mitchell, the deputy chief medical officer, instructing the organisation how to respond if approached by the media about the ban remaining in place.

Dr Kieran Morris, the former chief executive of the NIBTS, replied showing some concern about the process and how he would answer questions from his own staff.

“As chief executive officer and accountable officer for the NIBTS special agency service, I require from the Department of Health a written direction, giving me a clear line as to how we manage and control the situation,” he said.

“There is no doubt in my mind that referring all matters to the Department of Health press office will not be sustainable for more than a few days.”

Edwin PootsImage copyrightPAcemaker
Image captionEdwin Poots, the former health minister, said he kept the ban on the basis of ensuring public safety

A BBC investigation earlier this year found the Department of Health does not have any medical evidence of its own to support a permanent ban on gay men donating blood.

The ban was put in place across the UK during the Aids crisis of the 1980s, but was lifted in England, Scotland and Wales in November 2011.

Irrational

New rules were introduced that allowed blood donations from men whose last sexual contact with another man was more than a year earlier.

But Northern Ireland did not follow suit.

A gay man, granted anonymity due to his perceived vulnerability, launched a judicial review challenge over then health minister Edwin Poots’s decision not to adopt the same policy on this side of the Irish Sea.

A judge ruled that Mr Poots’ decision was “irrational” and “infected with apparent bias”.

Mr Poots said he had kept the ban on the basis of ensuring public safety.

In April, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that a lifetime ban may be justified in member states if no effective detection techniques exist within the country.

Devolved

The ECJ said countries must establish if such donors were at high risk of acquiring infectious diseases like HIV.

Mr Hamilton said he would study the ruling.

A number of issues will be looked at in the Court of Appeal, including whether blood policy should be a devolved matter.

The appeal is expected to last for four days.

The NIBTS did not respond to the BBC to give an additional comment.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “It would not be appropriate at this stage to comment on matters that are before the courts.”

Transgender woman targeted with a PIPE BOMB ‘for being LGBT

 

 

Pipe Bomb

 

Police are investigating after a trans woman’s home was bombed in Northern Ireland.

27-year-old Rachael Keys of Derry/Londonderry was forced out of her home after the incident on Saturday.

A pipe bomb that had been left on her windowsill exploded, shattering the window and showering her with glass.

Ms Keys, who luckily escaped without serious injury, told Belfast Live that police believe she was targeted for being trans.

She said: “I am a member of the LGBT community. The police feel that I may have been attacked because of that reason.”

Five homes were evacuated after the bombing, with families forced to seek shelter in a local community centre.

Ms Keys added: “I was just watching TV in my living room. Suddenly the window came through, there was glass everywhere and there was a big bang and a flash. I was covered in glass.

“To be honest I was completely dazed, I didn’t know what was happening. It scared the life out of me. I just ran out of the house screaming to my neighbours.

“I didn’t even have time to lift my poor cat, Jessie, who was sleeping in the bedroom. I was terrified, shaking, upset.

She continued: “The police came and cordoned the place off and evacuated us all to the community centre. I was totally dazed.

“One of my neighbours is epileptic and I was really worried about her not being able to get her medication. Another neighbour has a child who is autistic, another is a pensioner. It was awful for them. Just awful.

“We all had to sleep in the community centre overnight. I was distraught. Someone gave me a tablet to help calm me down and help me sleep. I didn’t sleep though.”

A Police Service of Northern Ireland officer told the newspaper: “We are lucky that no one was injured by this device, or by the window smashing.

“This is being treated as a sectarian hate crime and I would appeal to anyone with any information about this incident to contact detectives at Strand Road police station on the non-emergency number 101.”

Unsung Northern Ireland LGBT Heroes

In the USA the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame — this year being rechristened the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame — is the only municipally supported institution of its kind in the nation.

lead-chicago-x750_0

Who are our LGBT Heroes in Northern Ireland?  why submit your nominations and then we put them up on our site for you!

Snap 2015-09-24 at 12.26.23

 

Northern Ireland: 20,000 March In Favour Of Gay Marriage

Campaigners attend a rally in Belfast to show their support for marriage equality

Campaigners attend a rally in Belfast to show their support for marriage equality

Belfast demo seeks equality for LGBT people


by Mike Hamilton
in Belfast

ABOUT 20,000 gay rights supporters marched through Belfast city centre on Saturday to demand that the legal recognition of same-sex marriage be extended to Northern Ireland.

The protest wound its way through the main shopping district to Belfast City Hall, where a large open-air rally took place.

The action was jointly organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Amnesty International and the Rainbow Project.

Participants included a wide range of individuals and movements, including LGBT groups, trade unions, charities, human and civil rights organisations, churches, political parties and pressure groups.

The huge turnout surprised even the organisers, who were forced to make repeated calls for participants to use all available space at both sides of the staging to allow thousands more people in to hear from a variety of invited guests.

Among the speakers was ICTU LGBT committee chairman Daire Toner, who said: “I dream one day of getting married, but my dreams are shattered by the laws that govern this state.

“Even if I got married elsewhere, a flight or a train journey would make it invalid.”

Rainbow Project director John O’Doherty added: “The numbers here say it all. We want our voice heard. We need to go out and tell our story, play our part in a new Northern Ireland. They can’t ignore us any more.”

Amnesty International Northern Ireland director Patrick Corrigan put it simply: “All people are equal — the state should protect all people equally.”

In 2005, while under direct rule by Westminster, Northern Ireland became the first part of the UK to introduce civil partnerships, but since the power-sharing institutions were restored at Stormont, the fight for equality has gone into reverse gear.

The most obvious manifestation of this was an attempt to introduce a “conscience clause” amendment to equality law which would have allowed firms owned by people of faith to discriminate against LGBT customers.

Members of the Northern Irish Assembly proposed motions supporting equality in civil marriage four times in the last parliament.

But, each time, the Democratic Unionist Party blocked it, using a device known as a “petition of concern,” which requires majorities on both the nationalist and unionist benches.

Further links:

 

Scrapping Human Rights Act 'would breach Good Friday agreement'

Republished from The Guardian –

Belfast-based human rights organisation says Conservative government’s plans to ditch HRA will also violate international treaty

Theresa Villiers

The Committee on the Administration of Justice is seeking an urgent meeting with the Northern Ireland secretary, Theresa Villiers, about the implications of scrapping the HRA. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

 
Scrapping the Human Rights Act would be a breach of the Good Friday agreement that sealed the peace process in Northern Ireland, a Belfast-based human rights organisation has said.

The Conservative government’s plans to ditch the HRA would also violate an international treaty as the agreement in 1998 was an accord between two sovereign states – the UK and the Irish Republic, according to the committee on the administration of justice.
The CAJ (Committee for Administration of Justice) is seeking an urgent meeting with Theresa Villiers – who was re-appointed by David Cameron as Northern Ireland secretary in his new cabinet – about the threat to the HRA.

In a letter to Villiers, the CAJ’s director in Northern Ireland, Brian Gormally, points out that European human rights law was incorporated into the 1998 agreement.

He says article 2 of an annex to the Good Friday agreement binds the UK internationally to the multi-party deal, which was endorsed in joint referenda on both sides of the Irish border in May 1998; and, after it was ratified, both governments lodged the agreement as a treaty with the United Nations.

Gormally notes that in the section of the agreement guaranteeing the rights of minorities, the British government commits to “complete incorporation into Northern Ireland law of the European convention on human rights, with direct access to the courts, and remedies for breach of the convention, including power for the courts to overrule assembly legislation on the grounds of inconsistency”.

This part of the agreement is going to be used, for example, by campaigners who are seeking to overturn the ban in Northern Ireland on gay marriage, a challenge that has been blocked by the assembly in Belfast but will now be taken to the European courts.

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The CAJ director says any move to tamper with or dump the HRA would undermine Northern Ireland’s fragile peace settlement.

“The secretary of state should urgently clarify the government’s position as to whether it intends to breach the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in this way. Such a step would make the UK an international outlaw and significantly roll back the peace settlement in Northern Ireland.”

Gormally stresses that the Human Rights Act and and the European court of human rights, and states’ compliance with them, had nothing to do with EU membership.

Founded in 1981, the CAJ monitors human rights abuses by the state and the security forces in Northern Ireland.

Gay rights dominates the social media conversation in Northern Ireland

Reprinted from BBC News (Trending)

 

Dinosaurs

Attitudes towards gay people have become a big election issue in Northern Ireland.

It began with a viral video that’s now all over the news. Northern Ireland Health Minister Jim Wells – who is standing in the UK general election for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – was filmed at a hustings last Thursday. “You don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That a child is far more likely to be abused and neglected,” he said.

When the video hit social media it sparked fierce debate. Wells apologised several times for making the comment, saying that he had been under a lot of pressure over recent weeks because his wife is currently unwell and receiving treatment in hospital. On Monday he released a statement saying that he was standing downas health minister to help his wife Grace in her “fight for life.”

The video was uploaded to Twitter by 17-year-old Clare Calvert, who told BBC Trending that she doesn’t support any particular political party “I was attending the hustings because I was there to ask a question to the panel on what they could bring to South Down (the local area) to allow me to live there when I finished university.”

She says that she actually thought Wells did a good job as health minister, but that “his views have alienated so many members of society” that there was no way he could continue in the position.

The video she posted and the intense debate around it are significant developments, given that the DUP is currently the largest Northern Irish party at Westminster. Wells’ name and the debate about attitudes towards gay people have been trending ever since in Northern Ireland – with more than 14,000 tweets so far.

Opponents of the DUP sought to make political capital out of it all. The republican author Danny Morrison has been particularly active, tweeting: “So, Jim Wells suffers from narcolepsy. Looked wide-awake to me.” He also retweeted a widely shared picture of dinosaurs mocking the DUP candidate’s attitudes.

Members of the Labour Party of Northern Ireland also joined in. Writer Adrianne Peltz tweeted: “the next time politicians ask why so many young people are leaving NI, just direct them to @Jim_Wells_MLA & his state sponsored hate speech.”

The SDLP announced on Twitter that they had planned to submit a motion of no confidence in Wells had he not resigned. “He is no longer fit to hold office,” they tweeted. The Sinn Fein assembly member and spokesperson Maeve McLaughlin shared a post by a gay rights charity which read: “We are not a lobby we are a community. Disgusting lies which are harmful and full of hate.”

The chair of the Alliance party’s LGBT group, Mickey Murray, created a petitionwhich called for Wells’ resignation. “Over 8,500 signatures asking for his resignation, over 3,000 more signatures than votes Jim Wells received to get into the assembly,” he tweeted. The Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said Wells “had done the right thing in resigning.”

But some DUP members tried to turn the controversy against rival parties. Doug Beattie wrote: “Jim Wells quits over gay child abuse comments … meanwhile Gerry Adams remains although he knew about child abuse & said nothing.” It was a reference to Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, whose brother Liam was convicted of sexually abusing his daughter (In 2013, Gerry Adams gave an interview in which he admitted that his brother had told him about the abuse).

Wells’ comments came as the Northern Irish assembly held a private members’ debate on marriage equality. And next month in the Republic of Ireland, voters will take part in a referendum on same-sex marriage. A similar law proposed by Sinn Fein was defeated in Northern Ireland by the leading unionist parties in 2013.

Despite stepping down from his ministerial post, Wells is still standing as the DUP candidate in the South Down constituency. The other candidates in South Down are Felicity Buchan of the Conservatives, Chris Hazzard of Sinn Féin, the UUP’s Harold McKee, Henry Reilly of UKIP, the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie and Martyn Todd of the Alliance Party.

Blog by Hannah Henderson