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,


Friday Update- 19/02/21

Happy Friday!

This week started with Boris Johnson suggesting we build a tunnel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Connectivity is important, but as my colleague Cllr Stephen Donnelly pointed out if we’re talking about new infrastructure we could do with some better roads in Northern Ireland first please. Plus it’s getting very tiring that every time there’s an issue with Brexit Boris Johnson (to borrow a particularly graphic phrase from Naomi Long) “dangles this umbilical chord”.

On Tuesday Paul Givan tabled a Private Members Bill in the Assembly to amend abortion law with the intention to prevent abortions in cases of non-fatal disabilities. As it was the first stage of the bill there was no debate. I’ve been campaigning on reproductive rights for a decade and I know that those on both sides of the argument hold sincere and deeply held views, but for me given every pregnancy – and every woman – is different, the ultimate decision has to be made by the woman and her doctor. BBC has a good timeline on abortion law in Northern Ireland, which you can read here.

If you didn’t get the chance to watch the Spotlight Documentary on Covid and Hardship, please do. Thirty minutes of difficult viewing – but so important we all keep talking about the reality of poverty, and what is being done to address it. The destitution, the stigma, the lack of hope – it’s heartbreaking, and it’s also completely unacceptable. I have so much admiration for the people who shared their story, and so angry they had to. You can watch it on i-player here.

There have been definite signs of hope this week too however: from the NASA rover landing on Mars to the slightly smaller scale Lagan Gateway Bridge going in today (see it here). But for me the most joyful news was that a constituent who hasn’t seen her father for 51 weeks will be visiting him in his Care Home today.


This week I had Licensing and Planning Committee meetings, several meetings with the Alliance Party Belfast Council Group over the report into how Council handled the Bobby Storey Funeral (you can read our press release here) and a great meeting with the Alliance Women’s Network. We set the Network up to address women’s policy issues and increase female representation, but it’s also become a wonderful support network. I also had a brilliant meeting on an issue I’m very passionate about, but can’t tell you about… yet! Otherwise been busy with the usual casework issues, and as ever any issues or services not working for you, please get in touch: kate.nicholl@belfastcity.gov.uk


It was a tough call between all the GenZ Vs Millenial content… but in the end this one won (you can see the thread here -thank you to my friend Claire for sharing)

Hope you all have a lovely weekend & I’ll be back with another update next Friday,


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.

A letter to my grandmother

I was asked by the lovely people at second-store.com to write a Galentine’s Day Letter to a person who had inspired me to become the woman I am today – here it is:   

The last time I saw you I sat and stroked your hand: fragile, grooved with veins and age. You didn’t know me anymore. Lost in the mist. But I knew you – my grandmother who sent airletters, gave awful presents and couldn’t cook. You loved stories, a gift you passed down the generations. Because of this my childhood was enchanted, where magic and wonderment still existed – and I grew up knowing I could become anything I imagined myself to be. When the walls of my childhood came crumbling down, it was your daughter – and my imagination – which kept me safe.

What’s strange is that when I think I of you, which is surprisingly often given how little I actually knew you, I think of the you I didn’t know; long before the mist, before even me. Your grandmother was in the Black Sash, my mother would tell me. A woman’s organisation which campaigned against the erosion of human rights in South Africa. You couldn’t hold public meetings, so you would protest against apartheid individually. Black sash draped around you mourning the death of democracy. I’d read about this later, how though you were largely protected by your racial privilege – you were still vilified by many. Once you stood silently protesting in Cape Town when a man spat at you, and then a passing woman came and wiped your face. Women can change the world as much as men.

You used to say “Do the next good thing”, mum would tell me. I wonder what you’d make of our world now, you who have seen the devastation that is borne from polarisation. In Northern Ireland we’ve had no government for two years and people still fight for rights: a raped woman cannot have an abortion the way women in the rest of the UK can, same sex couples here are the only ones on these islands who can’t get married. As Brexit looms we hurtle towards more division, more barriers – the threat of eradicating the important work of so many for so long… and I feel helpless.

You taught my mother and she taught me the ability to think beyond ourselves, to see “others” as people and to imagine a better world. I got involved in politics to be part of the solution, not the problem – and as I try to hold onto my hope, I think with gratitude and pride of you and all the women who came before us, making it that much easier to do the next good thing. And how our job now is to do the same for those who will follow us.