Indicative votes: What’s going to happen today?

On Wednesday 27 March, backbench MPs will take control of parliamentary business after they passed the Letwin amendment on Monday evening.

The Letwin amendment allows MPs to hold a series of “indicative votes” this evening to discover what kind of Brexit deal can command a majority in the House of Commons.

Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, will choose which of the various Brexit options MPs will vote on. After a three- or four-hour debate, MPs will then vote at around 7pm using special ballot papers.

They will have 30 minutes to vote, in private, supporting as many of the options as they like. The results will be announced sometime after 9pm and how MPs voted will be made public later this evening.

There are sixteen options which have been submitted and the Speaker is expected to choose between six and ten.

MPs will also have to vote this evening on whether to change the date that the UK leaves the EU by extending the Article 50 process as agreed at last weeks EU Council meeting. This vote will take place at around 7.30pm.

Timeline for this afternoon and evening:

Between 1 pm & 2 pm: MPs take control of the order paper and decide how tonight’s votes will work.

Approximately 3.30 pm: Commons Speaker John Bercow announces which Brexit options have been selected for votes and the debate begins.

Approximately 7 pm: MPs vote on different Brexit options, in private, on special ballots.

Approximately 7.30 pm: MPs debate whether to extend the Article 50 deadline to April 12, as agreed at last week’s EU Council meeting. Voting at 9 pm.

Approximately 9.15 pm: The Speaker announces the results of the Article 50 extension, and then the result of indicative votes.

Follow @Brown_OConnor on Twitter to keep up to date with the day’s events as they unfold.

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NILGA advice on social media use for Councils as 'Purdah' kicks in ahead of 2 May election

For the election in May 2019, it is recommended that council members and officers should commence a Purdah period at the latest, by Tuesday 26th March.

On Thursday 2nd May 2019, elections are due to be held for the 11 district councils in Northern Ireland, contesting all 462 seats.

There is currently no legislation in Northern Ireland like the English Local Government Act 1986, formally governing publicity and council activity during the pre-election (or ‘Purdah’) period for local government elections. Similarly, there is no directly comparable, formal Code of Practice for councils to the Code of Practice published by the English Department of Communities and Local Government in 2011.

Social Media Tips

1. It is strongly recommended that all social media platforms operated by staff are subject to the principles of Purdah.

2. When using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Flickr, explain that as a council channel of communication you are adhering to Purdah principles. It may be helpful to tweet a link to an explanation of Purdah for guidance.

3. Do not retweet or share political opinion or content posted by political parties or politicians.

4. Do not tweet, post images or share updates on matters which are politically controversial.

5. Monitor your page and delete any content which is politically controversial.

6. Do not stage a significant social media-based campaign unless it can be demonstrated that it was planned before the election was called.

7. Social media by and about the Mayor or Chairperson may be retweeted, shared or used if it is not of a political nature.

8. Disable the ability to download images of politicians during Purdah.

9. In exceptional circumstances seek permission from your communications, compliance and/or legal colleagues to tweet or retweet a comment by a politician or to use videos and images of a politician during Purdah

10. Third party social media profiles, including business partnership profiles which the council supports, should also be governed by Purdah principles. Council staff who update these profiles can either continue to add content in line with Purdah restrictions or hand over ALL admin to a non-council member of the partnership during Purdah.

Amount raised for DEC Cyclone Idai Appeal climbs to £18 million

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal to help people affected by Cyclone Idai has raised £18 million since launching on Thursday 21 March. £8 million was raised in the appeal’s first 24 hours, with a further £10 million added to the total in the three days since.

The UK Government matched pound for pound the first £4 million donated by the public to the DEC Cyclone Idai Appeal.

Cyclone Idai swept through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe more than a week ago, leaving behind a trail of destruction, and killing more than 700 people. Strong winds and widespread flooding ripped apart roads, bridges, houses, schools and health facilities and submerged vast swathes of agricultural land. 

A child sleeps in a school in Beira, Mozambique where people are sheltering after Cyclone Idai destroyed much of the city.

A child sleeps in a school in Beira, Mozambique where people are sheltering after Cyclone Idai destroyed much of the city.

Peter Bryson, Head of Country at Save the Children NI said:

“As always the public has been hugely generous, and we are so very grateful for their donations. The full scale of the disaster in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe has yet to become clear but we do know that this is developing into one of the most pressing humanitarian emergencies in the world at the moment. Whilst conditions remain challenging, aid is getting through and DEC members are working hard to reach those who so desperately need help.”

DEC member charities are working closely with national partners to support the rescue and relief effort, delivering clean water, emergency shelter materials and blankets, food such as pulses and maize flour, and urgent health assistance. 

The appeal has received the backing of a number of high-profile figures on Twitter including Raymond Blanc, Alesha Dixon, JB Gill, Bear Grylls, Shobna Gulati, Myleene Klass, Annie Lennox, Adrian Lester, Simon Pegg, James Purefoy and Emma Watson.

Stay up to date with developments in the affected areas, the emergency response and the fundraising efforts with the DEC on twitter: www.twitter.com/decappeal or on Facebook via www.facebook.com/DisastersEmergencyCommittee

Forward Look from Brown O'Connor Communications - Week Commencing 25 March

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Forward Look

  • The Secretary of State Karen Bradley will extend current legislation on decision making at Stormont until 25 August 2019.

  • She will also give evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Wednesday 27 March.

  • MP’s are due to debate the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement on Monday. A third Meaningful Vote is expected next week.

  • The Northern Ireland Local Government Association has recommended that Council members and officers should commence a Purdah period by Tuesday 26 March at the latest.

  • Planning permission has been granted for the new Belfast Transport Hub.

  • The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland is advertising for a new Chief Commissioner.

  • Belfast will host two Business Missions from the Boston area in 2019. The British American Business Council of New England will bring 25 companies in April and the Boston Irish Business Association will bring 20 companies in December.

  • Belfast City Council is working with Invest NI and Catalyst Inc to identify opportunities for development in Nashville.

  • The EU Council will agree to delay Brexit until 22 May if the PM’s withdrawal agreement is passed next week.

  • The UK is scheduled to leave the European Union on 29 March.

Other Stories This Week

  • Inflation has risen for the first time since August, it was 1.9% in February.

  • The services sector in NI grew by 0.9% in real terms over the fourth quarter of 2018.

  • There were 3204 planning applications from October to December 2019, down 2% on the same period in 2017.

  • Total sales by companies in NI were estimated to be worth £66.6bn in 2017.

  • NI Water will increase bills for 80,000 non-domestic customers by 2.7% from April.

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Upcoming Key Political and Business Events

  • 25 – 31 March, Imagine Belfast Festival

  • 27 March, Londonderry Chamber of Commerce ‘Top 5 Mistakes Businesses Make When Managing Staff’

  • 27 March, NI Chamber, Danske Bank Export First Exporter Forum

  • 27 March, The Annual KPMG Lecture at Queen’s University with Keynote Speaker, Steve Rowe, Chief Executive of Marks and Spencer

  • 28 March, Digital DNA Awards 2019

  • 28 March, Royal Town Planning Institute NI Annual Dinner 2019

  • 29 March, Brexit Day

  • 1 April, DisruptHR Belfast

  • 1 April, Belfast City Council meeting

Consultations

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NI Planning Stats published today

Key points from the Northern Ireland Planning Statistics: Third Quarter 2018/19 Statistical Bulletin published today.

  • There were 3,204 planning applications received during October to December 2018 (Q3), up by 9% on the previous quarter, but down by 2% on the same period a year earlier.  This comprised 3,158 local and 46 major applications.

  • During the third quarter of 2018/19, 2,988 planning applications were decided, a decrease of almost 3% over both the quarter and the year.

  • In the first nine months of 2018/19 it took councils, on average, 15 weeks to process local applications to decision or withdrawal; the same as the figure reported for the equivalent period last year. Four of the 11 councils were within the 15 week target after three quarters of 2018/19.

  • The average processing time for major applications during the first nine months of 2018/19 was almost 58 weeks across all councils; up from just over 50 weeks reported for the same period the previous year. This was almost double the statutory processing time target of 30 weeks. The majority of councils did not process a large number of major applications during the first three quarters of 2018/19. Nonetheless, four councils were within the 30 week target at the end of this period.

  • In the first nine months of 2018/19 over four-fifths (82%) of enforcement cases were concluded within 39 weeks. This is 12 percentage points above the statutory target and is five percentage points higher than the figure reported for the same period a year earlier (77%).  After three quarters of 2018/19, nine of the 11 councils are on track to meet the target, with highs of 93% concluded within 39 weeks in Antrim and Newtownabbey, and 88% in Mid and East Antrim.

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Latest NI Water price hike just won't wash, says Hospitality Ulster

The Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill, has said that the latest price increase by NI Water has forced an additional financial burden on the hospitality industry that it will find difficult to meet.

From the start of April, the hospitality sector in Northern Ireland will be forced to pay an extra 2.7% for water and sewerage charges. This is on top of a 3% plus increase this time last year making the hospitality sector one of the most heavily taxed.

Colin Neill, Chief Executive of Hospitality Ulster reacted:

“Many don’t realise that this seemly small percentage water price increase has a huge impact on the hospitality sector as we are not only charged for water coming in, but also for sewerage going out.”

“To pay for the extra charge of around £100 on top of the already high-water charges, a typical business in the hospitality sector needs to make £500 more to cover that cost. Decreasing margins means that this will take a longer time to offset the newly inflated bill and is simply unsustainable.”

“This comes on top of a recent jump in business rates here which have increased in some areas as much 4%.”

Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster

Colin Neill, Chief Executive, Hospitality Ulster

“As a comparison, many businesses in GB with a NAV of £51,000 get 30% business rate relief, so, for example a pub in Sheffield with a rateable value of £37,750 will save £6,178 in business rates next year, whilst the same pub here gets nothing – this doesn’t stack up and shows how far behind we are here.”

“Our members are being hit with cost rises on a regular basis. This is death by a thousand hikes and needs to be curtailed as they are becoming increasingly unmanageable.”

“This just won’t wash with our members who are basically having to pay to supplement the inefficiencies of NI Water.” 

Belfast Film Festival gears up for its strongest year yet as 19th programme is launched

Michele Devlin, Festival Director of the Belfast Film Festival with Derry-born actress Bronagh Gallagher, who stars in “A Bump Along the Way” which will be shown on the opening night of the 2019 Belfast Film Festival.

Michele Devlin, Festival Director of the Belfast Film Festival with Derry-born actress Bronagh Gallagher, who stars in “A Bump Along the Way” which will be shown on the opening night of the 2019 Belfast Film Festival.

A record number of people are expected to attend the Belfast Film Festival which will launch today in the Black Box in Belfast. 

The festival will take place from 11th April to 20th April.  Now in its 19th year, the event has seen sustained growth in audience numbers annually since 2000.  This year it will screen 90 feature films and 80 shorts over 10 days, the programme is packed with premieres, international talent, new local work, events and special guests.  It is anticipated that this year’s event will attract more visitors than ever. 

In a real coup for the organisers, superstar of Indian film, Aamir Khan will travel to Belfast to take part in the festival, in his first ever visit to Ireland.  One of the world’s most successful actors, directors and producers.  He is well known internationally for his humanitarian work and will take part in an “In Conversation” event in the Waterfront Hall main auditorium.

Aamir Khan’s prolific career spans thirty years in film and he has a staggering 24 million twitter followers. His visit kicks off a new five-year ‘Cultural Diversity in Film’ project that will shine a spotlight on Polish, Chinese and Indian film.

Other special guests visiting this year include the star of “Angela’s Ashes” and “Trainspotting” Robert Carlyle who will be in Belfast to receive the Outstanding Contribution to Film award and take part in a public Q&A. 

One of Ireland’s most celebrated directors, Lenny Abrahamson will attend the festival.  Abrahamson directed ‘Room’ which received multiple Oscar nominations in 2015 and other acclaimed films including What Richard Did (2012) and Frank (2014). 

Local talent will be celebrated on the Festival’s opening night with a special cast and crew screening of “A Bump Along the Way” written by Tess McGovern and directed by Shelly Love, the new movie stars Derry born Bronagh Gallagher and is produced by her sister Louise Gallagher.

Director of Belfast Film Festival, Michele Devlin, said:

“I am thrilled to finally unveil the programme for this year’s Belfast Film Festival. It includes a fantastic mix of global and local, with a huge range of events from pop up puppet theatre to an event with one of the biggest movie stars in the world.

“We’ve seen Belfast Film Festival grow from strength to strength over the years and it has now become a cornerstone of the Belfast events calendar, bringing in tourists to the city and adding a real boost to the local economy.

“Our audiences are diverse, and we attract people from the ages of 8 to 80 and from every possible background and culture, to our screenings and events. The launch of the five-year diversity in film project will not only widen our appeal to different audiences, it will introduce more people to new and exciting films.

“I’m also excited by the fact that our consistent growth means that we have been able to launch a new documentary film festival - Doc Fest Ireland which will be held in June this year, and which will have an industry focus.  Doc Fest Ireland will bring an array of leading figures in the European and International film industry to Belfast, the only major documentary festival on the island of Ireland to do so. This development will be crucial to the continued development of Ireland as a destination for making and producing great documentaries for TV and cinema.

“The sustained growth of Belfast Film Festival year on year just goes to show the passion and desire for quality cinema here in Belfast.”

Bronagh Gallagher, who stars in “A Bump Along the Way” which will be shown on the opening night of the 2019 Belfast Film Festival, with festival director Michele Devlin.

Bronagh Gallagher, who stars in “A Bump Along the Way” which will be shown on the opening night of the 2019 Belfast Film Festival, with festival director Michele Devlin.

Mark Cousins, Chair of the Belfast Film Festival said:

“This year’s Belfast Film Festival is a real celebration of all that is great about cinema. With films from 34 different countries, this year’s programme is a truly exciting blend of cultures and styles.

“Belfast Film Festival is fast attracting an international reputation for curating wonderful programmes to amaze and thrill cinema goers. I am so excited by the festival’s outward looking attitude and our five-year diversity in film project will spotlight some of the best in international cinema.

“To kick that off we are honoured to have the incredible film star and humanitarian, Aamir Khan as our guest of honour.  If you haven't seen his films this is a perfect opportunity to treat yourself. His epic entertainments have the spirit of Frank Capra movies and he draws on the very best of Hindi film.

This will be his first visit to Ireland and we are so proud that he has chosen Belfast as the place where he will spend most of his time.”

Top 5 Picks of the 2019 Belfast Film Festival Programme

11 April Opening Night – A Bump Along the Way

Starring Bronagh Gallagher, written by Tess McGowan, directed by Shelly Love and produced by Louise Gallagher, the film centres around the awkward relationship between immature mum Pamela and disapproving daughter, Allegra.

12 April

Star of movies such as Trainspotting and Angela’s Ashes, Robert Caryle will receive the Oustanding Contribution to Film Award and will join Brian Henry Martin in conversation at the Dublin Road Movie House.

13 April

Award-winning Irish screenwriter and director Lenny Abrahamson takes part in a public conversation in the Queen’s Film Theatre.

16 April

Indian film megastar Aamir Khan will take part in a public conversation at the Belfast Waterfront.

20 April

Closing night gala – Beats. A universal story of friendship, rebellion and the irresistible power

of gathered youth. The final Belfast Film Festival event to take place in the Dublin Road Movie House.

 

Belfast-based HIV charity wins UK-wide GSK IMPACT Award

Positive Life, a charity that helps people living with or affected by HIV in Northern Ireland, has been selected from more than 370 organisations across the UK as one of 10 winners of the 2019 GSK IMPACT Awards.

 The GSK IMPACT Awards are a national programme that recognise and reward small and medium sized charities that are doing excellent work to improve people’s health and wellbeing in communities across the UK. Winners will receive £30,000 in unrestricted funding as well as expert support and leadership development provided by The King’s Fund.

CEO of Positive Life, Jacquie Richardson

CEO of Positive Life, Jacquie Richardson

Positive Life is the only Northern Irish charity which works specifically with people with HIV and in the first quarter of 2018 saw demand for their services rise by 80% compared to the previous year. It offers one-to-one support for people with HIV and their families, HIV testing, complementary therapies, a confidential helpline and peer support. In 2016/17, the last year for which figures are available, Northern Ireland was the only country in the UK to see an increase in the number of people diagnosed with HIV with 41% of people diagnosed at late stage.

The charity works hard to combat stigma and educate the public, working closely with the Government to improve services for people with HIV. It played a key role in getting the Department of Health NI to roll out Pre-Exposure Prophylactics (PReP drugs which block transmission of HIV) and promote HIV testing and safe sex. It has also worked with Northern Ireland political parties to table a debate around HIV, lift the ban on gay men giving blood and decriminalise the sale of HIV self-testing kits.

Katie Pinnock, Director of UK and Ireland Charitable Partnerships at GSK, said: 

“Positive Life is delivering excellent services in a challenging environment. Many HIV positive people experience stigma and marginalisation, resulting in high levels of depression, anxiety and isolation. Despite being a small charity, by listening to and working with the people who use their services, they have had a big impact. The judges were impressed with the organisation’s work with the Government and the changes it was able to make.”

Chief Executive of Positive Life, Jacquie Richardson said:

“I’m very happy that Positive Life has been named as one of the ten winners of the 2019 GSK IMPACT Awards. It’s an honour to be included with other wonderful charities doing such fantastic work.

“The generous funding that comes with this award will allow us to continue to deliver our absolutely vital services to people living with HIV in Northern Ireland. Just as important is the tailored training and leadership development that comes with the award and applying this is also going to be incredibly beneficial to our organisation. Access to this kind of specialised support and to the IMPACT Awards Network will help us grow as a charity and ultimately help more people.

“This award is a wonderful recognition of the work that Positive Life has done, and is doing, which impacts on the lives of many people here. In the last few years we have made some really important progress in terms of changing the conversation and challenging the stigma around HIV.

“Despite this progress, unfortunately in Northern Ireland there is still a real problem with stigma for people who are living with HIV. This stigma impacts on people’s lives in lots of different and horrible ways. Sadly, there are some people for who the only real connection they have with others is through our organisation and that makes the services we provide all the more important.”

Developing leaders in the charity sector is a key aim of the GSK IMPACT Awards programme. All winners will be invited to take part in a tailored leadership development programme provided by The King’s Fund. They will also be invited to join the GSK IMPACT Awards Network, a national network of over 80 previous award winners working together to develop leaders, find new ways of working, and provide mutual support. 

Positive Life will receive their award at a ceremony held at the Science Museum in London in May, along with nine other 2019 GSK IMPACT Award winners.

Over 100 from business community turn out for Londonderry Chamber Brexit Business Breakfast

Over 100 guests from the local business community turned out to the City Hotel for a Brexit Breakfast hosted by the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce in association with international law firm Eversheds Sutherland on Friday.

Hosted by Broadcaster Mark Carruthers, the event included Brian McGrath, President of the Chamber and Chief Executive of Foyle Port, Aodhán Connolly from the NI Retail Consortium and Lisa Bryson, Head of Employment and Immigration at Eversheds Sutherland.

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The keynote address was given by Peter Curran, Partner at Eversheds Sutherland which has offices in Dublin and Belfast.

Brian McGrath, President of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce:

“This was a timely event as we are now at the sharp end of the complex debate on Brexit.”

“It was clear from the mood of the business community that a no deal Brexit would be a disaster for businesses and companies in the North West region. Given our proximity to the border and reliance on seamless cross-border trade and travel, local businesses expressed in no uncertain terms that they would be acutely impacted by the fall out of a no deal.”

We only have to remind ourselves of the letter last week from the Head of the Civil Service, David Sterling that a no deal Brexit does not come with any guarantees about the continuation of cross-border trade as we know it. We must have a frictionless border so that businesses and people across the North West can continue to do what they do every day. Many guests at the event said that it is vital that we have the softest Brexit possible and avoid a no deal at all costs.”

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The event comes after Eversheds Sutherland issued a warning that the vast majority of businesses in Northern Ireland have still not started preparing for the legal ramifications of Brexit, launching a ‘Brexit checklist’ in response.

The law firm, one of only a handful of firms awarded Tier 1 status for their Brexit-related legal advice by the Legal 500, has warned that Northern Irish Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) have still not done enough to prepare themselves for the potential impact on their business as things stand at the moment with less than a month to go before the UK is scheduled to leave the EU.

The simple checklist has been launched to support and assist clients in assessing some key Brexit-related legal risks.

Despite businesses being urged to review their operations to put in place contingency plans, according to a recent survey carried out by AIB, only 2% of SMEs in Northern Ireland have a formal Brexit plan in place. SMEs are defined as companies that employ less than 250 people and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has estimated that they account for approximately 75% of the private sector employment in Northern Ireland. 

Uncertainty around whether a Brexit deal will be agreed and what that deal might look like has meant that many businesses have been unsure of the best way to prepare and this uncertainty has prevented many from even starting.

Lisa Bryson, Partner, and member of the Eversheds Sutherland Ireland Brexit hub who was one of the panelists at the event on Friday said:

“Brexit is the biggest political, constitutional and economic change to these islands in over half a century. It is a cause for some concern that there are so many Small and Medium Enterprises that have not started formally planning for how it’s going to impact on their businesses, but it’s not too late to start.”

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“Of course, it can seem counter intuitive to plan for something that may not even happen. As negotiations between the UK and EU continue up until the last minute and with the Prime Minister offering MPs a chance to prevent a no-deal Brexit, some may feel that they are being asked to prepare for the unknown or the unlikely.”

“However, this uncertainty is all the more reason for businesses to prepare. Whether the UK and the EU agree a deal or there’s a no-deal Brexit or even if there’s a delay to the whole process, it is vitally important that firms, especially SMEs realise just how much this can impact on their business.”

“It’s not just tariffs. Brexit has the potential to affect employment law and the ability of firms to hire EU nationals which can have a significant impact especially on the agri-food sector. It also has the potential to have an impact on contracts with customers and suppliers.”

“We have created a simple checklist to support and assist clients in assessing some key Brexit-related legal risks.  It serves as a prompt for the type of questions businesses should be asking and provides an indication of those areas in which a further audit or more detailed advice or assessment would be beneficial.  Of course this checklist does not address every conceivable eventuality so it will be important for each business to consider its own particular circumstances based on factors such as its location, trading relationships in the EU, regulatory environment, location of key customers and suppliers, as well as the make-up of its workforce.”

“If you haven’t done any planning at all yet, this checklist is a good place to start asking the questions which might present some legal risk to your business so that you can take steps to mitigate against those risks. You should also remember that you do not need to do this alone.  Many trade organisations have Brexit guidance available which consider in detail matters such as trade, customs considerations, taxation arrangements and the importance of understanding your supply chain.  Furthermore, InterTrade Ireland and InvestNI both have schemes in place which can provide financial support for Brexit-related planning, including legal advice from Eversheds Sutherland.

“We have a Brexit hub dedicated to providing legal advice to firms of any size and anyone seeking further help should get in touch.”

 

Charity chief to warn that HIV myths putting women at risk

The head of Northern Ireland’s only dedicated HIV charity is expected to warn that more must be done to combat the myths around HIV to help women take control of their sexual health at an event to mark International Women’s Day on Friday 8 March.

Jacquie Richardson, the chief executive of Positive Life, is expected to say that the perception of HIV as only affecting certain sections of the community is just one of the harmful myths that still exists in Northern Ireland and that it is having a negative impact on women’s sexual health.

In her remarks, she is expected to call for greater openness, more honesty and better education around sex and sexual health. She will also warn that misinformation and stigma leaves many women living with HIV in Northern Ireland excluded from society.

While HIV predominantly affects men who have sex with men, the HIV Surveillance Report 2018 showed approximately 20% of those who accessed care for HIV in 2017 in NI were women. Positive Life has previously documented the prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse that both men and women living with HIV in Northern Ireland face.

Jacquie Richardson will address the Alternative Ms Ulster event at Parliament buildings in Stormont on 8 March hosted by Clare Bailey MLA to mark International Women’s Day.

Chief Executive of Positive Life, Jacquie Richardson

Chief Executive of Positive Life, Jacquie Richardson

Positive Life is Northern Ireland’s only dedicated HIV charity. It supports and promotes positive living for people with and affected by HIV. Positive Life offers one-to-one support for people with HIV and their families, HIV testing, complementary therapies, a confidential helpline and peer support.

Chief Executive of Positive Life, Jacquie Richardson said:

“I’m looking forward to talking at this event about the importance of women taking control of their sexual health and combatting the stigma that prevents us from talking about these important issues.”

“It’s true that HIV primarily affects men who have sex with men but it’s important to remember that it can affect anyone, we help men and women and the people who use our services come from every walk of life and every background.”

“International Women’s Day is a good time to talk about the need for women to be able to take control of their own sexual health and what we can all do to support that.”

“We need open and honest conversations around sex and sexual health, and we need comprehensive sex education to ensure that everyone has the ability to take care of themselves.”

Clare Bailey MLA said:

On International Women’s Day the Alternative Ms Ulster event returns to Parliament Buildings in Stormont, a fantastic opportunity to showcase the issues that matter to women in Northern Ireland and to highlight the excellent work being done to empower women across Northern Ireland, including the promotion of good sexual health.”

“The theme for this year’s event is “Women Rise Up” and taking ownership of our sexual health is a great example of women rising up to deal with an issue that is incredibly important.”

“Good relationship and sexuality education is key to good sexual health and essential to empower women. Women need the right education, the right tools and for all of us to combat the attitude around sex and sexual health that makes it difficult for people here to discuss those issues. This means it’s also vitally important that we work together to combat the stigma that those living with HIV in NI face every day.”