NORTH Down MLA Andrew Muir has decried attempts to blame him for the controversy over the coastal path greenway plans.

In the run-up to a vote that scrapped the plans last Thursday night, several unionist members of Ards and North Down Council tried to point the finger of blame either at Mr Muir specifically or the Alliance Party generally. Speaking this week, Mr Muir refuted their accusations, pointing out that all parties had backed the council’s creation of a greenway network in principle at some point over the last seven years.

He also slammed the tone of online arguing over the coastal path, which he complained had resulted in ‘highly personal and homophobic abuse’ flung his way, as well as the ‘vilification of cyclists’ in some places. Mr Muir was on the council until late 2019, when he left to head to Stormont as a MLA. An enthusiastic cyclist, he has repeatedly campaigned for improvements to North Down’s cycling infrastructure as both councillor and Assembly member, and last year was appointed as chair of Stormont’s all-party group on cycling.

Even before the greenway was on the cards, he’d called for parts of the coastal path around Rockport and Cultra to be reworked so they’d be safer for people to navigate on two wheels. Speaking this week, however, he maintained that his support for sustainable travel and cycling initiatives do not mean he is solely to blame for the unpopular coastal path greenway scheme – or how it has been handled by a body he left more than three years ago. “Last Thursday night, the desperate attempts of obfuscation were remarkable as some tried to distract from the reality that all parties on the council have previously supported greenway plans in principle,” he said. “When the level of concerns about the coastal path proposals became evident, it was Alliance that acted, proposing that fresh consultation be undertaken and all options kept open. “As the council debate progressed, the allegations made against myself and Alliance just became even more ludicrous – and ignored the fact I have not been a councillor for a number of years now. “I am really disappointed to witness what can only be described as the vilification of cyclists in the context of this debate, and some of the online discourse degenerated into highly personal and homophobic abuse directed towards myself.” Calling for calm and for everyone involved to ‘take a step back and let the dust settle’, Mr Muir added that further talks on improving the coastal path need to be ‘respectful and constructive’. “This is a council matter and the working group has a hefty amount of work to do exploring the way forward,” the MLA said.