Weekly Update – 14/03/21

There are three things I’ve been thinking about almost constantly this week – violence against women, how violence against women is reported and how we bring much needed conversations out of our echo chambers.

The tragic and chilling case of Sarah Everard is the stuff of nightmares. How one human being can inflict such pain on another is incomprehensible. And as many have pointed out, there’s an added element of fear in that Sarah did everything right. Every woman knows what it feels like to be walking home alone, the scenarios that play out in your head and the tactics you hope you’ll use if the worst situation arises. We know what it’s like to have lewd things said to us, to be groped in bars, to feel watched and to feel powerless. And we’re tired of being told to alter our behaviour in order to prevent this.

I’ve started to see stories shared of other victims – particularly in relation to women of colour – ones that I’d never read before. Class and race undeniably impact how gender based violence is reported, and we need to acknowledge this, and we need to address it. But it’s not just the conversations that play out in the media – I’ve been reflecting on the conversations we have among ourselves. How most of these are had with other women, and how most of the ones had with men are spent agreeing that of course it’s not all men, but arguing that it’s enough men. And then I started thinking about Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) in schools and how much better equipped we would all be if we had honest, scientifically accurate, age-appropriate discussions from a young age. My party leader Naomi Long met with the Minister of Education on this, as did the Children’s Commissioner. Youth groups, women’s groups, concerned parents (just to name a few) have all raised how damaging the lack of standardised RSE is, and yet there has been no progress. We need proper RSE to keep young people safe – not just now, but in the future. There is the demand, the evidence, and the legal obligation for change – so why is nothing happening? We need to ramp up the public pressure if we’re ever going to see change.

But that’s not the only area where change is needed. Men who recognise that gender based violence is real and a problem need to stand with us, to talk to other men about attitudes and behaviour, and to call it out when they see it. We need better and consistent reporting on these issues – where your skin colour does not determine how many newspaper inches you get – and we need to start talking about these issues early.

I’m sending so much love to everyone hurting at the moment, especially those who have lost someone. I can’t imagine the pain they must feel. The world can be a very dark place and this week has been a heavy one. The outpouring of outrage, compassion and solidarity reminds me of the good which exists, and it gives me hope. I hope so much that this is a turning point.


Alliance celebrated Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week) with a beginners Irish class where I learnt my first Irish phrases. I attended a meeting with Senior Belfast Council officers over governance issues and had an Alliance strategy meeting regarding our group’s 100 goal manifesto for this term. Lots of casework (mainly planning queries!) this week -remember if any if Council’s services are not working for you, or there’s an issue in your area, please get in touch.


I’ve genuinely watched this about 200 times.

As ever if you’re having any issues you can email me at kate.nicholl@belfastcity.gov.uk

Keep looking after yourself & each other.

Friday Update – 26/02/21

It’s Friday and the sun is shining, both very welcome after this week in politics.

I started my week by listening to the Today In Focus miniseries podcast on the Freshwater Five. In 2010 five Fishermen from the Isle of Wight who were found guilty of conspiracy to import £52 million worth of cocaine and given lengthy jail terms. Ahead of a hearing in the court of appeal this week where new evidence will be presented that could exonerate the men – the five episodes look in detail at the case and the impact this has had on the men and their families. It’s one of the best podcasts I’ve listened to in a long time – which you can listen to here.

Meanwhile – Alliance has been lobbying on EU residents right to remain – we’re very worried that people for whom NI is home face becoming undocumented in 4 months – and we are pushing for the June deadline to be scrapped and for automatic status to be granted. More detail here.

My party colleagues on Mid and East Antrim Council (where the most bizarre things – even for NI politics – happen) called a special meeting to request an independent investigation into the recent removal of staff from Larne Port. The DUP, UUP and TUV voted against this. A depressing day for those who value openness and transparency, but proud of my colleagues for standing up for what is right. You can read more here.

The Department of Health has been dragging their feet in not implementing abortion services in Northern Ireland and on Tuesday we learnt the Human Rights Commission has been granted leave by the High Court to take a judicial review against the Secretary of State for NI and the Dept of Health for NI. It is anticipated that the case will be heard in May/June 2021. The fact that this has to happen – when the law is settled – is shameful.

Alliance Deputy Leader Stephen Farry MP has been highlighting that the way to ease tensions around the Protocol lies with the UK Government, and how they align or otherwise with EU on SPS rules via a Veterinary Agreement. He wrote a great piece on it here.

Arlene Foster and some DUP colleagues met the Loyalist Communities Council this week – a legal body which incorporates illegal paramilitary groups. Appropriately there was uproar around this. As someone who has been working with people who have been forced out of their homes and had their lives ruined by paramilitaries, it’s outrageous that any politician – let alone the First Minister legitimises them by seeking their opinion.

Sammy Wilson likened the Health Minister to a poodle. But Sammy Wilson being attention seeking isn’t really news.

I went on Talkback on Friday to discuss regulating graphic abortion images with Peter Tatchell – you can listen to the interview about 30mins in here.


This week I had an assignment due in (I forgot how much I hated being a student) but still managed to keep on top of my casework and progress some of the issues I’m working on. I had a very productive meeting on building community infrastructure in South Belfast, as well as discussions around social prescribing and what more we can do to support people experiencing loneliness and isolation. Usual casework issues – bins, planning and Covid regulations queries. And as ever, if you have any issues please get in touch: kate.nicholl@belfastcity.gov.uk


Pádraig Belton’s letter to his son on his second birthday. So filled with love.

Hope everyone has a lovely weekend,


Weekly round-up

So many people I know have just stopped watching the news. And who can blame them? The last 12 months have been hard on everyone and I think most of us just can’t deal with any more bad news. Saying that, as the vaccines roll out and the days get longer and brighter – hope is within reach.

In normal times (were there ever normal times?!) I would have been out knocking on doors to update residents on what I’ve been working on and getting feedback on local issues. Obviously with Covid that’s not possible, but I’m still working and still keen to hear your thoughts and concerns, so I’m starting a weekly update on this blog. In it I’ll update you on what I’ve been working on, my thoughts on what’s been happening in local politics and share something that’s brightened my week.

So where to start?

I was so excited to see the Black and Ethnic Minority Women’s Campaign for a bigger say in public life launch this week. I’ve been working with officers at Belfast City Council to look at how we tackle racism and while there are plans for training for young BAME leaders, it’s great to see these incredible women organising to make our political systems more representative. Watch their interview with Mark Simpson here and be inspired.

If Mid and East Antrim Council wasn’t already the most bizarre political body in Northern Ireland, the the latest developments must have secured its title. I genuinely feel so bad for my colleagues who are on that Council. Read about it here if you haven’t already.

Naomi Long’s legislation on stalking reached it’s second stage in the assembly – we’re so far behind the rest of the UK on this that it’s great to see it making progress. More about it here.

This week is Sexual Health Week, and an opportunity for me to raise (for the millionth time) how shocking it is that we don’t have standardised Relationship & Sex Education in Northern Ireland – here’s a piece I wrote on why we need it for Slugger O’Toole many many years ago.


A few people have raised issues about Wedderburn Playing Fields (in Finaghy) and how to make them more user friendly: I’m hopeful we’ll be able to get them lit up and a path can be put in – work on this is ongoing. Lots of planning queries, issues with graffiti in Belfast, questions about Covid restrictions and chasing up support funding for businesses impacted by Covid. No Committee meetings for me this week, but I attended the NI Planning Conference which was very useful, I was particularly inspired by some of the work Scotland is doing in relation to youth engagement around the town planning process and keen to see what more we can be doing.


Lawyer cat-man. I mean if this didn’t make your week I don’t know what will.

“I’m not a cat” – what a line.

As ever, any issues please get in touch – my email address is kate.nicholl@belfastcity.gov.uk

Have a great weekend & take care,



Friday was my last official day of maternity leave. I had brought Cian with me on a site visit, and as he sat in his pram staring balefully at us all, I wondered how the last ten joyous, sleep-deprived months had passed so quickly. The week before he was born I went on leave from my day job, but Council work never stops (I actually recall responding to casework emails from the labour ward). Since Cian Luca came into this world he has been with me almost constantly. He attended his first committee meeting at 4 weeks old, I breastfed him in the Council Chamber at 7 weeks, at 8 weeks he had sat in the BBC Talkback studio (while we discussed the trolling I had received for taking him to the chamber the previous week). He attended site visits and constituency meetings, he came to briefings and events – he even came along to a meeting in Parliament Buildings when the Assembly was about to get back up and running (Naomi Long asked Cian what he thought about her becoming Justice Minister… he thought there was no one better for the job) – and as smug as this now sounds, it all felt so wonderfully easy. I was praised for going back to work so soon, I was lambasted for going back to work so soon – but to be honest none of it felt like work, it just felt like I had the very best of both worlds.

As he got older I started to pump – I knew it was better for Cian to stay at home with his dad in a cosier (and politician-free) environment; and so off I went to my late night committee meetings, where I started to wonder if I really did have the best of both worlds. I tried not to dwell on the guilty sadness I felt each time I left him – as an elected representative I’m not entitled to maternity leave, besides I comforted myself with the belief that the sooner we got used to being apart, then the easier it would be in the long run.

And then came Covid. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make you look at your life and whether it’s discovering how resilient you are, or that you love someone more or less than you realised, or even the profound revelation that you *can* bake edible banana bread – it seems through this fearful and uncertain time, we’re all learning something about ourselves. In gaining a maternity leave I never thought I would have, I reflected on the necessity to spend time well. I knew that if I was going to continue sacrificing being with my child in order to fulfill my duties as a politician, I could only justify it if I was doing it for the right reasons.

I got involved in politics because I had a genuine desire to see a progressive and inclusive Northern Ireland, and to be a part of that change. It could be easy to pin your self-worth on a title, to become consumed with keeping your seat or seduced by the perks of office (I’m not ashamed to admit I am very partial to the stamp with my name on it), and the only way I could keep my involvement meaningful, was if it didn’t mean everything. I wanted to expand my skill-set and develop other areas of expertise, and so I enrolled on a postgraduate course, I applied for a new day job – and here I am on the eve of a new beginning.

While I still feel guilty at the number of commitments I have, I’m told guilt goes with the territory.  And while I’m just a bit devastated this glorious bubble is about to pop, I’m excited for the endless possibilities that lie ahead. But mainly I’m grateful – grateful I had much longer with my baby than most new parents do, and that the space with him has allowed me to really reflect not just on how I use my time, but on how I am, for the both of us.

The trouble with flags

When paramilitary organisations put up flags it is not about culture. It is a deliberate attempt to demarcate territory and to intimidate, and the law should protect against this. For the third year in a row UVF flags have gone up in Cantrell Close – appalling anywhere at the best of times, but all the more sinister because this is a *shared* housing development. Anyone who defends these flags is defending violent and threatening behaviour.

Whilst there is an obvious difference between paramilitary flags and ‘national flags’ – the latter is too frequently used for similar purposes. For the constituents I’ve been working with this summer, the key issue is not the flags themselves, it’s the anonymity. They know that in July flags will go up –but the fact that they’re erected late at night, by unknown groups of men – unsure for how long they’ll remain – is for many people deeply unsettling.

The police have told me they will only remove flags “if there are substantial risks to public safety” – how they establish this is a mystery to me. In the meantime nothing is done about the intimidation and authorities seemingly rely on those opposed just keeping quiet. If you feel unsafe or vulnerable you just have to deal with it.

Before the Assembly collapsed my colleague Paula Bradshaw was developing legislation – we need this, because until we have strict regulation and genuine leadership on the matter (which btw does not involve politicians knocking on doors and asking people if they mind the UVF flags outside their house…) then we’ll continue to revisit this every. single. year.

Everyone should be free to celebrate their culture, but ensuring this is done in a peaceful, transparent & time-bound way really shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Photo source: Irish News 

Some thoughts on the Alliance surge

I got involved with Alliance in December 2012 as an act of solidarity. The Party was under attack, not over the removal of a flag from City Hall, but over an election in East Belfast – and I was angry. Naomi Long had the audacity to win her Westminster seat from Peter Robinson in 2010, the retribution for which would last the best part of a decade. Most people would have crumbled, but Naomi Long is not most people.

In my seven years as an Alliance activist I have become accustomed to election campaigns, and to losing them.

The first election defeat I was involved in was the 2013 Mid Ulster by-election. I remember an SDLP activist (kindly) saying to me that he liked how we walked into that count like we stood a chance. We tallied furiously and cheered the loudest for our much respected candidate Eric Bullick when he increased our vote by 0.3%.

In 2014 my then boss Anna Lo was our EU candidate. Her personal views on the constitutional question had dominated headlines and many said that would be the end for Alliance, but in truth I think it served as a reminder that Alliance is genuinely a cross-community party. In the end Anna achieved our highest vote and we were elated, though at 7.1% of the vote we knew we still had a way to go to break the desired 10% barrier.

The next year – the 2015 Westminster election – was the one that really stung. After a particularly nasty campaign, Naomi lost her seat to the DUP’s Gavin Robinson (though she increased her vote by 4,000). His bitter and aggressive “5 Long years” speech stood out in stark contrast to the dignity and grace with which Naomi has become known for. And it didn’t go unnoticed.

In the 2016 Assembly election we kept our 8 MLAs, as was the case in the 2017 election (despite the Assembly having been reduced from 108 to 90 MLAs) – only this time Alliance seats in North Belfast and South Down were now within reach. It was then I realised that maybe things were changing.

With no functioning Assembly since 2017 and the cliff edge of Brexit looming; people are tired of scandal, self-interest, and political point scoring. For too long divisive, negative politics has dominated – and there doesn’t seem to be much to lose. So when a person like Naomi comes along – someone who is genuine, who speaks sense, and most importantly will work with anyone for the greater good (and is just that bit scrappy); it’s not difficult to see the appeal.

While Brexit and the absence of an Assembly undeniably contributed to our recent triumphs, the Alliance surge is not something that happened overnight. While Naomi is extremely likable and engaging (even her most dedicated trolls wished her well when she signed off social media to receive medical treatment), behind her is a pretty impressive team. Deputy Leader Stephen Farry – who is an actual genius (I have seen him engage in a conversation, analyse a policy document and play tetras all at the same time) – has been a reliable and trusted voice on Brexit. And because evidence-based policy is very much our thing, it means even if you don’t agree with an Alliance position, there’s integrity behind the decision making. The MLAs, their staff, and the small central team are dedicated and hard working – which are key ingredients to any success.

Mostly I believe that our strength lies in the fact that at the core of Alliance is a sense of inclusivity – which carries more campaign miles than fear mongering ever can. And while these elections are ones that will take a while to come down to earth from, we know we cannot be complacent. We face many serious challenges as a society, but for the first time in a long time it seems that those working towards the greater good were rewarded.

And there is endless hope in that.

Image may contain: 7 people, including John Blair, people smiling

Call-ins & carve-ups

When it looks like funding is being allocated on a ‘one for me, one for you’ basis, that’s a problem. It’s not always easy or popular to challenge these decisions, particularly if the area you represent is set to benefit – but it’s always the right thing to do. Ensuring openness and transparency should be an absolute baseline for any elected representative. So this week’s post is on the latest carve-up in City Hall – and for anyone interested – an explanation of the call-in process.

The ‘call-in’ exists so if you suspect a bad/shady decision has been taken at a Committee meeting Councillors can request that the decision be revisited. To do this you fill in a decision register (which we’re all emailed straight after the meetings), explaining clearly why you feel it should be called in – then you’ll need 8 other Councillors to sign it. This then goes to the Chief Executive and the Council will seek legal opinion. The legal opinion is circulated regardless of whether the solicitor or barrister think the call-in has merit, and full council will make a decision at the next meeting.

The email with the decision register is usually one of those emails you delete straight away. But not last week. Because last week interim funding for festivals was on the agenda once again – and in our opinion the decision that was taken was not a good one.

There is a pot of £320,000 to support festivals and events across the city for the next financial year and it was up to the City Growth & Regeneration Committee to allocate it. Last month Sinn Fein had tried to push through a £200,000 funding boost to Féile an Phobail (on top of funding they already get) which we voted against, not because of Féile – but because of process. Council hadn’t had a proper discussion and there hadn’t been an explanation as to why such a substantial sum of money should be allocated. So despite Sinn Fein’s protestations, it was voted that this go back to Committee for further discussion following briefings on the issue.

When it returned this month a last-minute proposal was put on the table from the DUP; they wanted to give rest of the money – £40,000 each – to Orangefest, the East Side Arts Festival and the CS Lewis Festival. The Greater Shankill Winter Festival was allocated £45,000. Again there was no particular reason why they should be allocated this sum of money. The attempt to just drive it through, last minute, was typically brazen. And highlighted how the festival funding process is a complete mess. All these festivals may do brilliant work, but this doesn’t negate the fact that there are many other arts organisations in our city in need of support too – and they don’t get a look in.

So back to the call-in – we had managed to get two other Councillors to sign our ‘call-in’ over the DUP and Sinn Féin financial carve-up, but we’ve since been forced to withdraw it after the Councillors, an independent and one UUP, decided to remove their names. With Sinn Fein and DUP (who may not be able to get a government together but when it comes to £££ in Council are the political party equivalent of #relationshipgoals) supporting the allocation of funding in this way it will almost definitely pass at full Council next week.

The next Council elections are in May, and as ever transparency will be top of the Alliance agenda. A long overdue Cultural Strategy (currently in development) will be brought to the new Council in April 2020 which should hopefully ensure a fair, open and transparent way of funding, which is vital if we’re to grow our arts sector. We’re also hopeful the new Council will see a bigger Alliance team returned, so we can at least call-in decisions when others lack the courage to.


p.s This week I am loving the Derry Girls & Amnesty NI collab-protest against our archaic abortion laws https://www.stylist.co.uk/visible-women/derry-girls-abortion-protest-northern-ireland/254198

Also loving the High Low Podcast (they’re super posh but give great book recommendations and talk about feminism/ best salt and vinegar crisps / MPs who instagram like they’re influencers etc) & Jack Blanchard’s Politico email which is one of the simplest ways to keep up with the chaos that is Brexit.

Not loving Sinn Fein’s manipulation of Colum Eastwood’s Fianna Fail’s Ard Fheis speech. https://twitter.com/sinnfeinireland/status/1100826310899834885