In praise of… Jim Allister

“..there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon…”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)

The controversy over Jim Allister’s SpAd Bill has thrown a different light upon a settlement that has brought us all certain indisputable benefits. Ironically, the post GFA institutions have had one of their first real fillips from the only resolutely anti Agreement unionist left in the chamber.

Such a bill could have emerged from any of the Executive parties. But as we’ve seen with the recently scrambled launch of the Towards a United Community strategy both parties in OFMdFM tend to expect their cabinet colleagues merely to fall in with their own overall plans rather than make an active contribution.

Mr Allister has enhanced his reputation with his own base for putting it up to SF. He has done himself no harm in liberal land either for underwriting a set of post conflict values and in doing so passing a double test of political base approval along with wider cross community authority.

That’s no mean achievement for one MLA and a tiny hard working back room staff. Nor for a man we were once told was a pure oppositionist from whom no good would ever emerge.

Some larger parties (with far more resources) should take note of Mr Allister’s focus, work rate and capacity to choose the right fight.

Allister’s importance does not lie in his unionist credentials. You can fall towards or away from those longer term objectives and still understand the importance of what he has achieved here.

It lies in his muscular reminder that democracy thrives on challenge, not meek deference to the inevitable procession of history.

People in Northern Ireland need more politicians like Jim Allister: trouble makers in the right place, ie in Stormont rather than on the streets.

One man on the fringes of one community doing the right thing is not enough. But he’s proven that at the right time and over the right issue, it can be done. And it is, at least, a start.

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