Alliance Party Chairman steps down citing “campaign of abuse”

Murmurs of discontent within the Alliance Party following the move by Lisburn City Council to reverse its earlier support for Alliance Party Councillor Seamus Close’s motion to restrict access to the council’s Cherry Room for civil partnerships. The BBC report that two of the three Alliance Party councillors in Lisburn have stepped down from their executive positions in the party – they remain party members – including the Party Chairman and Deputy Mayor of Lisburn, Trevor Lunn, following what he described as “a campaign of abuse” from within the party.Cllr Lunn is quoted as saying that it was the reaction to their support for Seamus Close’s motion that forced his decision and he complains of a campaign by some party members against the three councillors.

“The campaign against Lisburn from within the party has continued to the point where I thought it would be better if I wasn’t chairing the organisation.

“I always thought the Alliance Party was a broad enough church that we could support some difference of opinion.

“But it appears that in terms of equality issues, that we just can’t.”

The story broke on Radio Ulster’s Talkback which noted that the Alliance Party declined an invitation to discuss the matter..

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Oh dear…

    Bumped into Seamus last week down the street. Not a happy man.

    Maybe Alliance needs some kind of ‘Relate’-style help to bring the two sides back together – marriage guidance counsellors for councillors misguided over ‘marriage’…?

    Joking aside, while Alliance has always championed the notion of compromise, this will be also a test of its liberal credentials.

  • Observer

    Interesting to note all this internal pressure within the Alliance Party and Sinn Fein of late. …and folk said the DUP was run like a dictatorship?! I support any politician who stands up for what they beleive in – even if it is unpopular

  • Mark

    Not if they are a member of the supposed party of tolerance and aren’t prepared to tolerate one section of the community gaining a right which, while an improvement, still falls some way short of that enjoyed by the majority.

  • esmereldavillalobos

    Yes Mark, it’s not exactly a shot in the arm for liberalism and tolerance is it? It would appear that NI local politics is bearing more and more resemblence to the USA than a modern European democracy. I mean, Alliance?? OMG, I despair, I really do…

  • Shore Road Resident

    I remember an Alliance party election broadcast during the agreement referendum (I think, or maybe it was the first assembly election afterwards) that struck me as one of the most accidentally homophobic things I’ve ever seen on local TV.
    It featured a nice family sitting in their kitchen explaining to their son why they would be voting yes, and it had some line in it which the son misinterpreted as being a bit gay. Then everyone laughed.

    Can’t recall the details exactly. Does anyone else?

  • Michael Shilliday

    Wasn’t that Sean Neeson’s Euro excursion in ’99? I remember it for that too!

  • Shore Road Resident

    Ah yes, I think you may be right!
    The ‘gay’ line had some sort of Euro-connection. This is torturing me now – what the hell was it?

  • Michael Shilliday

    I think the joke was that he was trying something new – voting Alliance.

  • Shore Road Resident

    It really would make you despair, wouldn’t it?

  • What!! the Alliance Party, all ten of them, has an Executive. On a serious note, I applaud the courage of the two councillors for their courage and dedication.

  • fair_deal

    An example of the illiberalism of the liberals

  • Nestor Makhno

    “I always thought the Alliance Party was a broad enough church…”, says Lunn.

    Presumably not so broad that it would include gays.

    So much for the myth that Alliance was some kind of version of the mainland LibDems.

    Can it really be true that all along they were just a cover for a socially conversative bunch who were anti-sectarian only because it affected their house prices…?

    That advert was truly dreadful – the son was embarrassed to admit that he was voting for Alliance and his family thought he was actually going to admit he was gay. A faithful reconstruction of a 1970s ITV sit-com scenario. Sad, deluded people.

  • Crataegus

    Parnell

    I agree the likes of these councillors and Molloy should be encouraged.

    There is a problem caused by a current view of all political parties that suggests that difference of opinion in a party is a weakness rather than a strength. Everyone toeing the line and howling at the moon in harmony makes much more sense.

    They are all fixated about common message and keeping debate under wraps. Name one political party here that is not run by control freaks.

    I have become increasingly of the opinion that it matters less what party a politician belong to (except the extreme right) but what is really important is their ability to stand up and disagree when they think something whiffs

    I yearn for some real characters who have passion instead of the non descript clones.

  • Shore Road Resident

    Ah yes I remember it now.
    It was the nice suburban kitchen that really made me laugh though.
    I’ve never had a house with a kitchen you could actually sit down in.

  • TAFKABO

    Middle class mum to dreamy eyed Middle class son,
    What are you thinking about?

    Middle class son
    I’m thinking about a man…..

    Middle class mum
    You’re not……..?

    Middle class son
    No mum, not like that….I’m thinking about Sean Neeson

    Classic stuff, it made the UUPs Decent people campaign seem well thought out.

    As for the poor sod (intended) who feels he is being persecuted….well now at least he has a small inlking of what it is like to be on the recieving end of such treatment.

  • gg

    Perhaps everybody in Northern Ireland needs someone to hate. If you’re not turned on by sectarianism, why not choose homophobia instead?

    I personally am politicophobic – I am not too fond of politicians, although in Northern Ireland, it is not an irrational fear in many cases.

  • It is quite clear that the Alliance Party as a whole is supporting the legislation, in line with its unique commitment among NI parties towards genuine equality for all.

    I know several gay members, one of which posts here regularly.

    I don’t know what the Lisburn ones were up to, but if Seamus Close ever wondered why he never became leader, maybe it’s because he’s not really Alliance?

    (I’m too young to remember the ad referred to, but it sounds like it got the result it deserved. But this is 2005.)

  • slug

    Don’t think it sounds homophobic – that scene.

  • TAFKABO

    On the contrary, it was positively homoerotic.

  • Comrade Stalin

    This thread is really weird.

    People are slagging the Alliance Party for being homophobic, when it isn’t (a few homophobic people have resigned from various positions, claiming that their homophobic views were not tolerated. I don’t know whether they were tolerated or not, but clearly they think the party does not agree with them).

    People are slagging the Alliance Party for having a rigid view and not tolerating dissent. I guess this is an improvement from the days when people said the party was wishy-washy “all things to all people”, and stood for nothing in particular. It just goes to show you that people are bad at making their minds up. Anyway, the party hasn’t actually done anything about Lisburn other than issue a statement reconfirming it’s support for civil partnerships and commitment to equality for all, but even if it had done something, it would be quite right. Clearly not everyone in a democratic political party will agree uniformly on everything, but how can a party tolerate people briefing against it with diametrically opposing policies ? The UUP and Conservative parties are well known for not properly dealing with internal dissent. Look where they have gone.

    I don’t see the point in the rest of the silliness about a bad election advert 10 years ago. Would anyone care to point to a local party with a better record on rights for gay people ?

    BTW those posting on this thread supporting the dissenting councillors and their principles .. what planet are you on ? Why do you seem to think that Jim Crow should be tolerated ? Why do you think that religious intolerance (that’s what this is – intolerance based on religious interpretations about gays) is a thing worth having in this place ?

  • Nestor Makhno

    Junior: ‘I’m too young to remember the ad referred to, but it sounds like it got the result it deserved. But this is 2005.’

    I think the ad went out in 2003 – just how young are you?!

    Stalin – Perhaps you’re right – we’re being a bit unfair at Alliance. But those who want to maintain high standards have to be open to the strongest criticism. We’d expect this sort of thing from the DUP.

    I guess it’s more sheer bewilderment that someone like Close could be a senior member in the party and yet hold such illiberal views. They’re obviously heart-felt on his part – which makes them even more bizarre.

    I’m sure Close would be horrified to be labelled racist or sectarian. But he has a complete blind spot when it comes to homophobia.

  • Crataegus

    Comrade

    I don’t support homophobic views but I would rather have people expressing their views so I can properly make up my mind what exactly I am voting for.

    Party lines mask the individual. They seek to mislead.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Nestor:

    Stalin – Perhaps you’re right – we’re being a bit unfair at Alliance. But those who want to maintain high standards have to be open to the strongest criticism. We’d expect this sort of thing from the DUP.

    “We” ? Is there a gang of you co-operating on this thread or something ?

    What exactly would you expect from the DUP ? The party has made it very clear that it has a specific position in favour of civic partnerships. It hasn’t done much else, but yet people are here slating it for closing down dissent – which in any case is the party’s right, especially in severe cases like this.

    I guess it’s more sheer bewilderment that someone like Close could be a senior member in the party and yet hold such illiberal views. They’re obviously heart-felt on his part – which makes them even more bizarre.

    Close hasn’t caught up with the times.

    I’m sure Close would be horrified to be labelled racist or sectarian.

    There are very few bigots who shout about their prejudices from the rooftops.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Party lines mask the individual. They seek to mislead.

    Bit of a silly point really, why do you think people join political parties ? It is to emphasise strength in a common cause. That is why we have parties.

  • CS Parnell

    First of all – Comrade Stalin. Get your fake email address right sovnarkom.su for goodness sake. The su TLD may have gone but the Soviet Union lives on in the heart of all true believers. Errr. Where was I again. Oh, yes.. Alliance.

    Well, they do appeal to some of the more conservative of Catholic voters, don’t they? In my experience Alliance these days relies on the votes of Catholics who think the SDLP is either dangerously leftist or a bit too uppity to that nice Mr Faulkner. And whatever was wrong with the RUC anyway?

    Close is obviously something of a throwback to an era where Catholic politicians took their instructions directly from the Church.

    And by the way, catholic is exactly the right description. He’s in the Alliance Party so he’s not a Nationalist!

    NB I’m the real Parnell, the other one is a Redmondite impostor.

  • Andrew Muir

    If the Alliance Councillor’s in question had made racist remarks would everyone we saying that “I support any politician who stands up for what they believe in – even if it is unpopular”.

    I don’t think so – you would be appalled and calling for their resignation.

    I was present at the last Lisburn City Council meeting and listened to Cllr Seamus Close’s homophobic rant which nearly entered the arena of a hate crime.

    When are people going to stop seeing homophobia as an acceptable prejudice?

    When a few more queers get kicked to death or when people realise that the parts of the Old Testament used to jusify discrimination against gay people are simply insane just like how me realised that eating shellfish isn’t an abomination?

  • Crataegus

    Comrade

    Not necessarily, it could be ambition. A latent tree hugger or a rabid lefty may ponder some Eco Left group, but unless a hopeless idealist, common sense would suggest not a hope in hell. So if that person wants a career in politics then it is off to the party most likely to get elected and try and find a safe seat.

    There are lots of reasons to join a political party, vested self interest, social network, family tradition, social standing etc. Could even be some deep feeling of inadequacy and need to prove one’s self.

    As for common cause the problem is it is not A common cause, it is many and often down to the utterly ridiculous. In any case causes are often problematic concepts. Yes we would all probably like to reduce global warming so the cause is common, but the proposed solutions are very different.

    Perhaps I am jaundiced with politics, but to my mind all political philosophy starts with a basic truth, but is often pursued as though the only truth, and by so doing becomes an absurdity. Mercifully we are all different but Party Politics tries to mask that and so personally I would like to see a lot more independents and generally I prefer coalition governments.

    As a matter of interest what does the Alliance Party actually stand for? You know that burning issue that would make me want to join.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    I think the ad went out in 2003 – just how young are you?!

    It certainly didn’t. It was, IIRC, 1999.

    I have a lot of time for Seamus, Betty and Trevor. I think it’s fair to say the Lisburn branch has always been more independently minded than the others, and is perhaps more conservative than most. It’s a Lisburn thang.

    Alliance – like any party – has different wings, factions, call them what you will. Seamus might be compared to a kind of NI Christian Democrat-type, while many members might be described as liberals (and – gasp – even official LibDems), moderate/civil/democratic unionists, there’s a few nationalist-minded types (more than you might think), reformers, modernists, and a handle of libertarian types. There are more, but you get the drift.

    So it’s a fairly broad church, a pretty secular party with quite a few members who are religious. One thing that seems to apply to all members is a high degree of tolerance for others, and that religion and politics should stay separate, so I guess that’s why this whole issue has struck the party so deeply. I’ve never really noticed religion getting in the way of politics with Alliance.

    The argument, on the face of it, seems clear-cut to readers. The perception is that Seamus and his fellow Lisburn Alliance councillors are homophobic; that they are opposed to “gay marriage” and that this is in contravention of party policy.

    I don’t think this is the case.

    Seamus’ argument is based on legal and technical grounds, although the perception is different, if the comments here – where we get a fair cross-section of opinion – are anything to go by.

    I think there can be better ways to put your point across than we’ve heard in the media today.

    I understand that Seamus sees ‘marriage’ as something different from ‘civil partnerships’. I don’t think he believes that the legislation has delivered that, if Lisburn Council’s legal advice and his reaction are anything to go by.

    I don’t think he views ‘civil partnership’ as lesser than ‘marriage’. Instead he sees it as ‘equal, but different’. What the legislation – to him – has delivered is ‘equal, and the same’.

    There is a valid argument for opposition there if one sincerely believes that ‘marriage’ is something only possible between a man and a woman. I’m not 100% convinced that the legislation and what flowed from it actually equated ‘marriage’ with ‘civil partnerships’, but others apparently do, which is their right to do.

    It is obviously an issue that can never be entirely political, as it impinges on fundamental religious beliefs, which would be difficult for someone with sincerely held convictions to ignore. It’s something all parties here grapple with freqently.

    Alliance has always differentiated between ‘civil partnerships’ and ‘marriage’, while insisting that, while different, they should be be treated equally. Not the same. Equally.

    That kind of opens a grey area, albeit narrow. It could mean, for example, a formal debate within the party. So I think it will be possible for Alliance to resolve its differences through a formal debate on the issue. I think the party could easily unite around a common policy that may even include opposition to certain aspects of legislation while still being firmly in favour of civil partnerships being treated equally.

    It just needs thrashed out in the open, and hopefully in a civil and democratic way. That might mean voting at the weekend to formalise a policy or statement the party can unite behind.

    I have the utmost respect for the Lisburn councillors, but have disagreed with them often enough in the past too. But there was always a meeting point, a compromise. Anyone who knows Seamus knows he’s someone with very deeply-held principles (stubborn, but with good reason?), but he certainly isn’t unreasonble.

    While it looks bad from the outside, ultimately I’m confident an amicable resolution can be reached.

  • blackeyedbean

    There does seem to be a nasty split in the Alliance Party at the min, at a Disability Action conference in Stormont last week Eileen Bell said and repeated that she would resign from the party unless Seamus Close retracted his position.

    It therefore seems from recent reports that Alliance values Eileen “I married a prod, and I will continue to tell everyone repeatedly” Bell over Seamus Close.

  • Andrew Muir

    I have heard Seamus Close speak about the matter of Civil Partnerships – he is not merely opposed to technicalities but the entire concept.

    From a man who has continually made homophobic jokes at the expense of the gay community (remember his joke about Lesbians from Lenadoon – a fictional group made up my Mr Close) lets not go down the road of trying to excuse the behaviour – he is an homophobe!

  • Crataegus

    Blackeyebean

    “Alliance values Eileen”

    I wonder how much they will value her come the selection in N Down for the next Assembly election?

  • Was it not Peter Robinson who made the ‘lesbians from Lenadoon’ jibe?

  • esmereldavilla lobos
  • Elvis

    Seamus has long been semi detached from Alliance. Eileen Bell wont stand for the next Assembly – you heard here first

  • Jo

    It seems a bit disengenuous to whinge about a group not being tolerant of intolerance.
    Pot, kettle, anyone?

    I suppose it shows how far we have come from Alliance living up to its name and uniting people and avoiding divisions based on sectarianism.

  • George

    Belfast Gonzo,
    south of the border one of the main reasons being put up against the idea of putting gay marriage on a par with heterosexual marriage is that it will mean gay couples will have all the rights of a married couple, including, most controversially, an automatic right to adopt children.

    Instead the civil partnership idea is being developed as the government is pretty much saying that the population has no problem with recognising gay couples and giving them the right of next of kin when one is sick, hereditary rights etc. but it isn’t sure about the population’s attitude towards gay adoption.

    Are you saying that Close is in this camp, has no problem with allowing civil partnership but does not want to put it on the same level as marriage as it would open up this whole area?

  • slug