East Antrim: McMullan (SF) and Ross (DUP) retain seats

Sinn Féin’s Oliver McMullan has described his victory in East Antrim as “a ringing endorsement” of his party’s policies.

The man from the Glens of Antrim, who won the seat in 2011, was elected below quota after 12 stages of counting.

Also elected below quota on the 12th count was the DUP’s Alastair Ross.

“We are delighted that we have secured three seats. We always knew it was going to be tight for the last two seats, but we thank the electorate for coming out and endorsing what I think is a positive vision from the Democratic Unionist Party, ” he commented.


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#GE2019 Profile: Aiken seeks UUP progress rather than a win in East Antrim

The most coastal of all Northern Irish constituencies, which contains hardly any inland aspect. East Antrim takes in most of the southern and eastern fringe of am Antrim coast running from Newtonabbey on the edge of North Belfast to the Glens just a few miles short of Torr Head.

Its huge coastal reach was extended in 2010 after three wards from the old Moyle Council replaced Cloughfern in Newtonabbey making the whole constituency slightly more Catholic than before. The split is now 70% Protestant, 20% Catholic and the rest none or other.

As Gerry Lynch noted in 2007 this is still a constituency of two economic halves, with “the southern half dominated by commuter settlements making use of the railway and A2 road into Belfast” providing easy access into the city and its industrial hinterland in Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus.

The port town of Larne is roughly at the centre point of what is otherwise a largely rural constituency. From about Carnlough the religious demography changes profoundly and tips into majority Catholic and into that other hurling hotspot of the Glens of Antrim.

Like their counterparts in Strangford, this small northern enclave expects to play little part in the political action here where most of the interest lies in whether the Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken can lay a glove on the current DUP incumbent Sammy Wilson.

Wilson took the seat from Roy Beggs in the change election of 2005 at just the second time of trying. In doing so he turned the tide decisively in favour of the DUP with 49.6% of the vote. Wilson was one of the major beneficiaries of the DUP bounce in 2017, bagging 57.3%, an increase of 21.2%.

Aiken actually sits in the Assembly for neighbouring South Antrim, but the plan there had always been to run the former MP Danny Kinahan there. Crossing the water to North Down may also have been tempting but they played safe and stuck to the local man there Alan Chambers.

Instead, he’s taken on the arch Brexiteer of the DUP in the second most Leave constituency in Northern Ireland. Now on the face of it that might sound a bit crazy, but in contrast with Britain (and more specifically England) East Antrim only weighed in with a majority of 55.2% in favour.

Aiken certainly cannot win the seat, but he may benefit from extremely low expectations. In eighteen years, his party slipped from incumbency in 2001 albeit on a slim majority and 36.4%, to coming in a poor third place to Stewart Dickson of the Alliance party on just 11.9%.

This is almost certainly a result of a one-off squeeze. Just months earlier in the Assembly elections, the party had its only two-seat win in March 2017. With nothing at stake other than marking the DUP’s card, Aiken will hope that he can use his leader’s profile to make some decent yards on Wilson.

On the most recent form (from Westminster and the local elections) Danny Donnelly of Alliance could also give him a run for his money. Oliver McMullan is the one nationalist MLA for the Assembly here, so should do well.

Other candidates: Angela Mulholland (SDLP) Philip Randle (Green) Aaron Rankin (Conservative).

Likely winner: Sammy Wilson. The main question here is not whether Sammy wins but can Aiken’s personal preference for Remain has any effect on Wilson’s huge majority in an election where unionists may feel freer to criticise the DUP’s handling of Brexit than in 2017.

Of course, given a chunk of the sizable Remain minority is inaccessable to him due to the largely impenetrable sectarian boundary towards the north means this is a strategy aimed at progress but not one likely to deliver a victory.

Westminster Bridge, London” by Arran Bee is licensed under CC BY

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty


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Only a third of urgent ambulance calls responded to within target time

Just more than a third of the most urgent ambulance calls were responded to within time targets in Northern Ireland over the last year, figures show.

Increased demand caused by the ageing population may be responsible for the “outrageous” slippage, Ulster Unionist health spokesperson Roy Beggs said.

The official target is 72.5 per cent of the most serious calls reached within eight minutes. The actual rate achieved in the past year was 37 per cent.

While the true percentage of calls requiring such a speedy response may be much lower, the ambulance service plans to introduce major changes by 2021 and recruit hundreds of extra staff.

Mr Beggs said: “I am extremely concerned that patients’ lives are being placed at risk as a result of the rapidly deteriorating response times of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS).”

He obtained the statistics, characterised as a “major breach” of a target primarily put in place to protect patient safety.

The figure has been steadily falling for each of the past seven years and now lags far short of the overall 68 per cent performance achieved in 2012/13, he added.

The East Antrim MLA stated: “That is simply outrageous and falls far below the safe and sustainable standard that people should expect.

“Whilst patients are suffering, it’s also completely unfair to be putting our paramedics in this situation.”

Kevin McAdam, Unite the Union’s regional officer for health members, said the reduced standard of service provision was due to health trusts being expected to make savings year-on-year.

“This manifests itself in the ambulance service being understaffed, although the hardware is sitting there.

“Given the low staffing numbers and the previous lack of an education route into a paramedic role, this leaves an under-resourced staff facing lots of overtime and excessive hours, which leads to increased pressures and as a consequence stress among the workforce leading to increases in sickness.

“Ultimately the service needs [to be] resourced to reflect the needs of the community.”

Mr McAdam said changes in call handling and the latest workforce review may lead to improvements being identified, but unless and until the service had more resources he feared nothing would change for the better.

Mr Beggs added: “The longer someone has to wait for assistance in a life-threatening emergency, the greater the risk there is of them coming to serious harm.”

“It is outrageous therefore, that whilst the official target is that 72.5 per cent should be responded to within eight minutes, over the last year across Northern Ireland only 37 per cent of these urgent calls were met within this time.”

With an ageing population the demands being placed on the ambulance service are constantly growing, the Ulster Unionist said.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service blamed the figures on the continuing high levels of demand.

It prioritises approximately 30 per cent of calls received through the 999 system as Category A – immediately life-threatening.

But research across the UK, based on information collated following the arrival of a paramedic response, has shown that the true percentage of life threatening conditions is approximately 7 per cent.

A system has been introduce to target the quickest response to patients who were sickest, bringing enormous benefit to patients with no detriment to others, the service said.

A review said around 330 extra staff were needed to support the new system.

The NIAS said it would be able to deliver full benefits of the change by 2021/22.


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Sinn Fein defend single mention of health in election manifesto as strike crisis looms



Nurses gathered at the gates of the Royal Victoria Hospital staging industrial action in protest at pay and unsafe staffing levels. December 2, 2019Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
Nurses gathered at the gates of the Royal Victoria Hospital staging industrial action in protest at pay and unsafe staffing levels. December 2, 2019Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press

Nurses gathered at the gates of the Royal Victoria Hospital staging industrial action in protest at pay and unsafe staffing levels. December 2, 2019
Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press

December 3 2019 17:23 PM

Sinn Fein has defended only mentioning health once in its General Election manifesto.

The DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson accused the party of “taking people for granted” after publishing a manifesto with “not a single mention of our elderly, school reforms, health reforms, new roads or communities living without proper broadband”.

Sir Jeffrey said the manifesto included seven attacks on the DUP and 16 mentions of a united Ireland.

He was speaking as around 16,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) began industrial action over pay and staffing levels. The nurses will refuse to do any work that is not “patient specific”.

On December 18 nurses across Northern Ireland are set to take full strike action and a walkout will take place.

The party’s vice-president Michelle O’Neill defended the sole mention of health saying the election on December 12 was “about Brexit”.

“Obviously health is a huge topic,” she told BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme.

“This election is fundamentally about Brexit, it’s about the rejection of Brexit, the DUP and the chaos at Westminster.

“We say this in every election — this is the most important election. But this is the most important. The decisions we take now will shape a generation.”

Have you been affected by the healthcare industrial action? Contact digital.editorial@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

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Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (Brian Lawless/PA)

Sir Jeffrey said that Sinn Fein were more concerned with the Irish language that other matters.

“I know Irish is important to some people and they deserve proper respect, but hospitals are important to everyone,” the Lagan Valley Westminster candidate said.

“Whilst the DUP has delivered £1.5bn for hospitals, schools and roads, SF has delivered nothing but chaos and now want a mandate to sit in Westminster and do nothing.”

Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew said Sir Jeffrey’s comments were “a bit rich coming from the party whose health minister refused to award a pay rise to nurses and firefighters”.

“The DUP have also given the Tories a blank cheque to decimate our economy, agriculture and communities through their reckless Brexit agenda,” the Fermanagh and South Tyrone Westminster candidate said.

“We want the Assembly and Executive up and running — it’s time the DUP woke up and faced reality by getting back around the table and ending their denial of rights.”

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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

UUP health spokesperson Roy Beggs said that his party believed it was “time for a direct rule minister to step in”.

“It’s time we had a minister of health who can actually make decisions and help to break the stalemate which currently exists,” he said.

“There’s a clear need to increase pay for health care staff, but the permanent secretary feels that they are constrained by the policy of the last Executive of which Sinn Fein played a major part.

“Grandstanding from the sidelines is irresponsible and patients and staff are currently suffering.”

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Michelle Gildernew

Speaking on Talkback, Ms O’Neill defended her record as health minister at Stormont.

She said in her nine months she attempted to bring about transformation of the health service.

“In that short time in the department I am actually quite proud of what I was able to do. Not least the fact I was able to look at a 1% consolidating pay up lift. That was far from perfect but it was a step in the right direction,” Ms O’Neill said.

She said she was unable to introduce pay rises for health staff due to Treasury calls for continued pay restraint.

The Mid Ulster MLA refused to apologise for the move, saying the health service was on its knees because of Tory austerity which was “foisted upon us”.

She said nurses should be awarded pay parity with their colleagues in the rest of the UK.

“No one should apology for Tory austerity, that was a choice for a Tory government,” Ms O’Neill said.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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Gracie Gordon Larne tragedy: ‘Dark cloud’ over town after teen’s death

A friend of the 14-year-old girl who lost her life in a tragic accident in Larne on Tuesday night has said that the town “really does have a dark cloud over it” after the tragedy.

All branches of the emergency services converged in large numbers on the River Inver in the town after it was reported that a girl had fallen into the water at around 9pm.

Although she was rescued from the water police later confirmed that she had died. After a post mortem yesterday, police declared her death was not suspicious.

Named locally as Gracie Gordon, her friends paid tribute to her on social media.

“You can just feel the sadness everywhere today” one said.

Another added: “Thoughts and prayers are with the wee girls Grace’s family and friends. I just can’t get over that news, that could of been any of our own. Sadly it just happened to be wee Gracie.”

She offered her deepest sympathies to the whole family circle and large group of friends, adding: “Larne really does have a dark cloud over it today.”

The Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Maureen Morrow, also offered her condolences to her family and friends on behalf of the borough.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and loved ones of the young girl who died in a tragic incident in Larne last night,” she said.

“To lose a young person at any time is truly unimaginable but for this to happen in the run-up to the Christmas period is especially heartbreaking and I wish to extend the sympathies of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to this young girl’s family and all those who mourn her loss.”

The mayor also praised the members of the emergency services and volunteers from the Community Rescue Service who attended the scene on Tuesday night. She hoped that they, and anyone else affected by the tragic incident, would receive the support they need in the days ahead, she added.

Larne YMCA Youth Club offered a quiet space for Gracie’s friends last night.

“Due to the sad news we heard about Gracie we will have a quiet space tonight in youth club for anyone to call in and have a chat and a cup of tea,” it said on Facebook. “We offer our sincere thoughts and prayers to Gracie’s family and friends at this difficult time.”

One follower thanked the YMCA for its “lovely gesture”. She added: “My heart breaks for the whole family connection and Gracie’s friends. I for one today will be cherishing both my boys just that wee bit more than I do already.”

Friends of the teenager laid bouquets of flowers along the riverside yesterday.

East Antrim MLA John Stewart said the tragedy was “heartbreaking”.

“Very little will act as comfort to the parents, family and friends of this young girl at this hugely difficult time,” he said.

“My thoughts and deepest sympathies are with each of them as they begin to come to terms with this earth shattering tragedy.

“I have no doubt the entire Larne community will also be offering their thoughts and prayers and support to the family in any way they can.”

UUP MLA Roy Beggs described the incident as a “very sad news in Larne”.

People from all over Northern Ireland and one man from Larne now living in Australia expressed great sadness at the news of the tragedy.

“Been following this on Facebook, as am a Larne man, in Sydney Australia,” he said. Another added: “This is flipping horrendous. My sympathy to the family. Awful. Just awful poor we girl – thoughts an prayers for the family an all her we friends.”

Funeral details had not yet been confirmed.


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