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Mountain to climb for new councillor

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Mountain to climb for new councillor thumbnailAndy McMurray being congratulated by Alliance General Secretary Sharon Lowry with other members of the local Alliance Association.

HE HAS climbed Slieve Croob many times and now the area's new councillor is looking forward to getting to know the issues of those living in the foothills.

Andy McMurray has been selected as the Alliance party's newest councillor on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council for Slieve Croob.

The outdoor pursuits enthusiast replaces Patrick Clarke who was disqualified from being a councillor after being found to be "unfit for public office". Mr Clarke was convicted of sexual assault and defrauding two community organisations.

As he was elected under an Alliance ticket before defecting to become an Independent, the Slieve Croob seat was co-opted by Alliance.

Originally from Belfast, Councillor McMurray, who is a married father-of-two has lived in the Castlewellan area for 10 years.

“Myself and my family feel very much part of the town and community now," he said.

He is a familiar face to many through his decade spent working as an outdoor pursuits instructor at Ardnabannon Outdoor Education Centre, Castlewellan.

“I have been into kayaking from a young age and also hiking through the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and Scouts.

“After I completed a Politics degree in England I came back and was not sure what I wanted to do. I kind of left politics on the backburner and continued down the outdoor avenue but always kept a recreational interest in politics.

“Tollymore National Outdoor Centre had a trainee scheme and I completed that after graduating.

“Since then I have worked with both private providers and volunteered in many aspects of outdoor activities, including mountainbiking and canoeing.

“I suppose since having my own family, I became less selfish and wanted to do something where I can have an effect on my local area," said Councillor McMurray.

He added that the ethos and manifesto of the Alliance party most matched his own beliefs.

“Throughout the entirety of my life Northern Irish politics has been dominated by the competing narratives of unionism/ nationalism and loyalism/ republicanism. I have never felt comfortable subscribing to any of these.

“Alliance is the only party that cannot be bounded by these narratives. I am a firm believer of middle-ground politics. Be this in the Northern Irish context or the wider left/right spectrum. Other local parties masquerade as being of the 'middle ground', but only Alliance has the track record and vision to deliver a truly shared society."

While Councillor McMurray says he has been a long-standing Alliance voter, he admits only becoming a paid-up member earlier this year.

“I came into the party in May 2016, after the Assembly elections and before the EU referendum.

“There is no doubt about it, I am extremely humbled more than anything that I have been given this opportunity."

The emerging issue of the proposal to close Ardnabannon Outdoor Education Centre, where he works full-time, is for him a conflict of interest.

He says through his role as a youth worker at Ardnabannon, he has had the opportunity to "meet young people from every community across Northern Ireland".

“I see the need to have a society where our young people can grow up without fear from intimidation resulting from sectarianism, racism or other hate crimes. Alliance offers a genuine alternative to negative politics where everyone is welcome," said Mr McMurray, who added that the closure is still just at proposal level and subject to public consultation.

“I am employed by the Education Authority (EA) and have a conflict of interest in this but I support the value of the EA as the Board does and these are just proposals.

“I am a great believer in using outdoors as a means to develop young people, and the EA see the value in that as well.

“I am proud to have the opportunity to serve all the people of Slieve Croob and look forward to working with Councillor Patrick Brown as part of a strong and growing Alliance team," said Councillor McMurray.

Councillor McMurray was selected as a councillor after Mr Clarke was disqualified from being a councillor at an adjudication hearing in September by the Local Government Commissioner for Standards, when Mr Clarke admitted to breaching the councillors' Code of Conduct and was deemed to be "unfit for public office".

Despite Mr Clarke acting as an Independent, as he was elected to the council as a member of the Alliance party in 2014, the rules for filling the vacant seat determined that it was for the Alliance party to choose a replacement.

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