Alliance is diversity in action by Lauren Mulvenny

After the recent debate about the make up of Alliance’s party membership, Lauren Mulvenny-a party staffer writes for Slugger that its candidates in the upcoming elections have a diverse range of backgrounds.

On the back of the Party’s 44th successful Conference, Alliance champions the individuality of its membership base, proving it is the only Party open for everyone

If what drives Alliance was ever in question, the Party’s Conference sounded loud and clear – diversity is the heartbeat of the Party.

You only have to look at South Belfast – the constituency of Anna Lo MLA, Northern Ireland’s only ethnic minority European candidate.

There you’ll find a former Ulster Unionist, the son of a founding republican, the 21-year-old star of a television-based social experiment and the well-known community relations expert, who is also the son of a Presbyterian Minister, all stepping forward to represent the party in May’s local government elections.

And what unites these four individuals from vastly different backgrounds? The desire to build a united Northern Ireland, free from the old orange and green tribal politics, which together they believe only Alliance can deliver.

Unionists and nationalists have achieved nothing

Balmoral candidate Paula Bradshaw is passionate about the future of Northern Ireland, determined to move past the clichéd politics of the past, in favour of a united community for everyone.

It was almost four years ago when Paula walked away from the Ulster Unionist Party, believing politics was about more than “one section of the community”.

She said: “The post-war UK has a remarkable story and I make no bones about the fact that I want Northern Ireland to share in it.

“But all too often it doesn’t because of the very ‘unionists’ who are supposed to support the same UK values that I cherish.

“Unionists and nationalists have failed to deliver an open society, have failed to further press freedom  and have made no in-roads when it comes to gender equality.

“Instead they have created a Northern Ireland that doesn’t allow gay men to donate blood and bone marrow and where some people will be barred from marrying the person they love and want to commit to purely on the basis of their gender.

“The very point is that anyone who believes in a straightforward binary identity split between ‘us’ and ‘them’ will end up going round and round in circles achieving nothing.

“I may happen to share a broad constitutional view with unionists, personally, but the very reasons for that view – the values of a diverse, liberal and cosmopolitan UK – are ones which unionists universally reject.

“Yet they are values I want to see enhanced right here in Northern Ireland, for the good of all of Northern Ireland.

“These are values only Alliance can deliver.”

The past does not define my future

Emmet McDonough-Brown was eight-years-old when his father, a prominent member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), was murdered.

Describing it as a day he will never forget, Emmet says over the years his family tried to protect him from the difficulties of the troubles – something he loves them for.

But just over 20 years later Emmet has stepped forward for Alliance, joining a diverse range of people united in building a shared future for Botanic and Northern Ireland.

He said: “I wasn’t born when my father was imprisoned and was only three years of age when he came out of jail. Regrettably I never really knew him, and like many children affected by the troubles who have lost a parent, I deeply lament that loss.

“I went to the Bunscoil Phobal Feirste and then to Methody, but it was difficult not to have a father in your life as you grow up and I will always carry his death with me.

“My family voted for the Good Friday Agreement, and along with many others they have travelled on the journey for peace – one where people’s sense of Irishness enjoys civic expression. More than that, they have been my inspiration and given me my passionate belief that a better Belfast is not only possible, but is currently being fashioned. 

“I find the challenge of building a shared future to be the most obvious, but yet the most radical idea in our politics. This is why I joined the Alliance Party, a diverse range of people who are united in that pursuit. It is also why I am standing for the local council elections this May.”

Joining Alliance was a no-brainer

Attending a Catholic nursery, an integrated primary followed by a grammar school, Jamie Doyle says he witnessed first-hand the growing discontent with tribal politics.

Add to the mix his parents – his father’s from west Belfast and his mother from east Belfast – and he believes he really is diversity in action.

But don’t just take Jamie’s word for it as the candidate for Balmoral sees his life captured on camera every seven years for a BBC-based social experiment, with the next instalment – 21 Up – due to hit screens shortly.

Jamie said: “Knowing that my life is going to be documented every seven years has really made me stop and take stock of what direction I want my life to go in.

“As the only person from Northern Ireland involved, I was selected for the programme when I was six-years-old and am delighted this latest instalment will showcase my desire for a better, shared Northern Ireland – signalling the Alliance Party as the only way to achieve this.

“Over the past few years I really started to take an interest in the future of Northern Ireland and for me joining Alliance was a no-brainer.

“I’m from a single parent family and there is a general disengagement of people from my background with politics.  Add to that the disinterest of many of my peers and it has made me determined to inspire others to fight for the Northern Ireland we all deserve.

Alliance is for a shared future, not a scared future

Leading community relations expert Duncan Morrow is leaving life as a sought-after commentator behind, instead stepping forward for Alliance – the Party he describes as having vision, good politics and courageous politicians.

The son of a Presbyterian Minister – who has sat on a range of boards from Co-Operation Ireland to the British Council – Duncan said the move to frontline politics was an obvious next step after years trying to encourage change from behind the scenes. He will stand for election in Botanic this May.

He said: “Alliance is for everyone – it is not a slogan but something we adhere to,  diversity is at the heart of the party and Alliance champions and cherishes the individuality of its members.

“Without good politics and courageous politicians – politicians of vision and values – this community will descend again to the catastrophe of murder without responsibility and killings claimed as innocent.

“That is why Northern Ireland needs the Alliance Party and why I have decided to step forward for Alliance.

 “I am proud when Anna Lo says paramilitary murals should be down after 20 years, and disgusted when all she gets is racist abuse.  I am proud when Naomi Long and Chris Lyttle have the courage to say that the Haass proposals on flags are a scandal because a year-long grandstanding roadshow through two elections is irresponsible and damaging.  I am proud when David Ford finds the best in Haass on the past and offers to bring forward a way to make it work.

“I’m proud to be stepping forward for Alliance, truly the Party for everyone.

“Diversity, tolerance and a commitment to a shared future not a scared future are the only things worth working for in Northern Ireland.”

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  • Rory Carr

    “…I don’t really think Alliance are any less boring than the SDLP.”

    Quite right, Charles. It is a scientifically proven fact that one is equally as boring as the other.

  • Gopher

    Charles In Mid Ulster SF replaced their best politician with (yet) another non-entity. The SDLP failed to land a glove on SF at that election reinforcing the belief that there is no daylight between themselves and SF. There is only a thousand votes between Alliance and SDLP in Belfast and I think the boundary changes suit Alliance more than the SDLP. If Alliance out poll the SDLP in Belfast then their change of direction is vindicated

  • Greenflag

    Bye elections and in particular the last one in Mid Ulster would’nt be the best example to draw from for a future election . The SDLP won back the 3% that it lost in the 2010 Election in the same constituency . SF have such a huge majority in the constituency that they can drop 5% of their vote and still win by 12% .

    This constituency won’t be an AP target this time but they will hope to increase their vote .

  • DC

    I think within the wider unionist constituency the Alliance vote will go down, voters are not enthused, they will stay at home and not vote, there are no alternatives out there at the moment for an alliance voter with a bit of self respect, mention Alliance to middle class type mainstream unionists and you will in all likelihood get a ‘meh’.

    Alliance = ‘meh’

    Meh – expressing a lack of interest or enthusiasm.

    eg “meh, I’m not impressed so far”

    Whereas within nationalism its vote may go up thanks to the likes of Neil who having witnessed deprived and distressed sections of unionism, largely working class unionists, get upset and angry over, what to that section and indeed others, looked like Alliance Hong Kong-ing* Belfast’s Union flag, he will now reward Alliance with a transfer because it really annoyed the hell out of the working class. Such is the warped little world and mind of a ‘theoretical’ northern Shinner voter.

    Alliance upsetting deprived sections of the unionist community adds to the ‘meh’ factor within unionism add in the fact that the ordinary unionist voter may look at what Alliance received in return for designated days in Belfast, did it get designated days for all councils when debated at Stormont? No. Such voters may weigh this up and think it silly of Alliance to do things without getting anything in return.

    *Hong Kong-ing –

    (Anna Lo – are you Chris Patten in disguise!?)

    Alliance is the political version of flight MH370, bizarre change of direction by one of its pilots, Anna Lo, now deemed lost in a political void.

  • Comrade Stalin


    I describe my politics as repulican, socialist and nationalist and so as long as there will be politics, anyone I vote for will be ticking those boxes.

    There are no candidates standing for election in this country who are all three of those at the same time. So before we even start you have to make a compromise. My guess is that you’ll compromise everything except the question of the constitution. But there is no rational reason for this; you can be pro-UI without voting for a pro-UI party.

    The Fog around Alliance is an electoral advantage to them generally.
    Agnostic? Publicly yes.
    But more likely…. dont ask dont say.

    What else is a non-tribal party which urges people to look beyond the constitutional issue supposed to do ? As soon as Alliance picks a constitutional position it has defeated its own purpose.

    Engaging in a debate over the constitutional question is an argument that cannot be won, and a debate which will convert none of those who are listening to it. Ever heard of term “confirmation bias” ? You are not a nationalist because you spent years weighing up the pros and cons, you are a nationalist ultimately because of where you were born and who your parents were. This is true of all nationalists – and all unionists. Alliance cannot play on that pitch.

    Instead they seem to think that exposing the non existence of Alliance “nationalists” is unfair and a bit cheeky.

    Not at all.

    Attempts to paint Alliance as sneaky unionists in disguise are counteracted by the unionists making arguments that Alliance are nationalists (read DC’s increasingly desperate contributions for a sample). There are some contributors here (ridiculously) suggesting that Alliance are pursuing a solely nationalist constituency. When Naomi Long made a proposal that a footbridge in a park in East Belfast be named after Prince George (or whoever it was) these people said, oh look, she’s trying to row back from Alliance selling out to Sinn Féin.

    Intransigent unionists will see Alliance as crypto-nationalists. Intransigent nationalists will see Alliance as crypto-unionists. This will never change. In your own case, I’m pretty sure it is impossible for you to conceive of a genuinely, entirely non-sectarian, non-tribal party that would draw votes equally from people of a nationalist, unionist, and non-aligned background. Your world consists of people who are nationalists, and people who are not.

    So when I read a thread like this, which consists of nationalists saying that Alliance are unionists, and unionists saying that Alliance are nationalists, I’m reasonably confident that Alliance are being relatively successful in establishing that they are neither. I’m not at all uncomfortable or perturbed by these arguments.

  • Gopher

    Comrade, Naomi is desperate and fair play to her for putting up a fight but she would need to move Tower Bridge to East Belfast to get re elected. As I have said Alliance arnt against the union but they will certainly attack unionists for votes and as I said the UUP and DUP make that very easy, SF are also ripe for attack from a party that is neither one or the other. Ill not hold my breath. Lo kinda made those attacks futile with her colonists and artificial state comments, Alex Maskey does not need to think for himself now he just needs to reference Anna. Another Alliance freebie.

  • Comrade Stalin.
    Indeed nationalists saying Alliance and unionissts …and unionists saying they are nationalists.
    Thats one way of looking at it.
    Another way to look at it…is that a leading member of Alliance has said she is a nationalist.
    This for political advantage or just sincerity…well I have an opinion of course.

    To try and ease all this confusion by simply asking people seems entirely reasonable.
    Unless of course Alliance sees electoral advantage in Anna Lo claiming to be a nationalist….AND electoral advantage in the rest of their candidates saying nothing at all.

  • Greenflag

    The DUP & UUP have nowt to offer the people of Belfast bar the status quo which isn’t sustainable over the medium term in that city given an increasing nationalist electorate ..Thus it makes sense to support the AP and in particular if the AP draws more votes from the nationalist side of the electorate .

    Intransigent unionists will remain intransigent and will vote the party line regardless – which is the path to nowhere for most of them . A stronger AP is a better bet for those ‘unionists ‘ who see a more inclusive Northern Ireland as the future instead of a bitterly divided sectarian cesspool as in the past and alas too often the present .

  • DC

    It’s just almost impossible to trust the Alliance party these days given the way it has behaved.

  • Greenflag

    ‘It’s just almost impossible to trust the Alliance party these days given the way it has behaved.’

    Nonsense .If we’re to believe you DC then anybody who mentions the dreaded words ‘United Ireland ‘ can’t be trusted .
    Look at the leadership the DUP and UUP are providing -it’s all downhill with no end in sight .

    At least the AP have a more positive view of the future and can provide ‘respectability ‘ for unionism in the eyes of the wider British and Irish communities on these islands .

    The DUP/UUP/TUV are just coat trailers of the UKIP and the BNF and other assorted headbangers of the neo right nut jobs that infest the body politic with their rantings and ramblings of all kinds of shitology 🙁

  • Granni Trixie

    “…by the way it has behaved..”:

    So…APNI demonstrates it
    is open to people from various and often complex backgrounds,views,beliefs. Only in a country hidebound by traditional sectarian labelling is this a problem.

    Incidentally I recommend that you read Patricia Craig’s book, “A Twisted Root” where she draws on her own family background to demonstrate her view that people in this island are a bit of this and that.

  • DC

    I just don’t think Alliance can be trusted and relationships have broken down. I mean one minute Ford is agnostic then next he’s not then Anna Lo is working for a united Ireland then a Northern Ireland shared future and legitimate union flags to be taken down.

    I also don’t like the way it upset and disturbed the most deprived and distressed sections of the same community out of which it draws its votes.

  • DC

    But the electorate are entitled to have a broad as choice as possible and political alternatives of all sorts – Alliance being one.

  • Greenflag

    Granni Trixie ,

    ‘ Only in a country hidebound by traditional sectarian labelling is this a problem.’

    Anybody who endeavours to open the sectarian cages is by definition as per DC’s views expressed here -sectarian ,

    The Alliance Party love them or loathe them are the only party who cross the sectarian divided . FJH oft derides their ‘getalongerism ‘ . Others condemn them as political opportunists .

    But wheres the outreach in the DUP? or UUP ? or SF ?

    Northern Ireland would be a lot more civil and have some chance of ‘survival ‘ as a statelet if the AP were getting 30% of the vote instead of the DUP or SF . As I said above they are the acceptable face of ‘unionism ‘ in the eyes of the vast majority of people in Britain and Ireland .

  • Greenflag

    DC ,

    ‘I also don’t like the way it upset and disturbed the most deprived and distressed sections of the same community out of which it draws its votes.’

    Maybe some in that community have given up on the DUP and UUP for leading them to where there is nowhere else to go ?
    Can the DUP or UUP point to any policies they have implemented which have actually helped these people ?

    Other than egging the poor sods on to wave more union jacks ?

    Face it DC -the Union Jack is not the preferred flag of more than half the people of Belfast . As such the Alliance Party did a great job in ensuring that the Union Jack gets to fly on designated days just like the rest of the United Kingdom .
    Now what could be more British than that ?

    This perhaps ?

    I guess these thugs were eh distressed or were they just deprived for too long of a bit of aggro ? Maybe it’s part of their election campaign ?

  • Granni Trixie

    Green flag

    Let me add that although other parties will claim – and mean it- that they are open to all, they make a crucial mistake in not doing anything to foster an internal culture to reflect differences. For example a few years go I remember when new members and potential candidates in UUP were lauded as Catholics and although I can’t remember the details I do remember that this opportunity was lost because these people did not feel themselves to be really welcome after all and left.

    I remember also being shocked when I was
    told that some leading members of the UUP would not be selected as candidates because they were gay. This was in Trimbles time and who knows if this is still the case. It remains the case I think that only a change in political culture will attract and retain people who do not usually fit into traditional parties, either side if the divide.

  • Greenflag

    @ Granni Trixie ,

    I don’t doubt your comment above . It’s a case of never mind what these parties say -just watch what they actually DO and in that respect as you point out very little has been achieved . The UUP outreach to Catholics was a farce . The DUP haven’t as far as I know even bothered .SF have attracted a few Protestants but again no significant numbers . The SDLP is neither here nor there and in retreat as is the UUP . Thus by default the AP is best placed to become the main cross community party in terms of representation and in voters if the electorate wants a shared instead of a scared future .

    Given NI’s political history one should’nt be too surprised or shocked at homophobia within the Unionist parties. This type of behaviour is highly correlated with sectarianism , racism, imperialism , catholicism , and victorian age values .
    And all of the above have left their legacies in NI politics and society.

    Given the narrowing demographic divide then the party vote counters in all parties have to balance out what they may lose as against what they may gain if they truly ‘welcome ‘ themuns ‘ into the one true church as it were ?

    ‘It remains the case I think that only a change in political culture will attract and retain people who do not usually fit into traditional parties, either side of the divide.’

    Not an easy thing to change i.e political culture -it happens over time or sometimes as a result of revolution -war – economic /religious upheaval or some ‘deus ex machina ‘ or even a great political leader etc can make a difference .

    In the current context of Northern Ireland’s politics a stronger AP can only be good for the people of Northern Ireland -all of them . AP’s views on the Union or on a UI are in a real sense immaterial- for that is a decision which will not be made by the NI Assembly but by all the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum or so we are assured by the GFA..

  • DC

    Now what could be more British than that ?

    This perhaps ?

    That’s as British as this is Irish –

    Declan “Fat Deccy” Smith was blasting by a gunman as he left Little Rainbows Creche in Holywell Avenue in Donaghmede in Dublin.

    And now it has emerged that staff tried desperately to distract traumatised kids, including Mr Smith’s toddler son, as paramedics fought to save his life on the road outside.

  • Greenflag

    Indeed DC -You make my point – Another good reason why voting for the AP in NI makes sense .

    There are crazies everywhere .Sometimes they are ‘paid ‘ crazies and sometimes they are over devoted followers of a political ideology or religion or criminal gang or even highly paid employees in the financial sector where it takes five years to get Bernie Madoff’s ‘aiders and abetters ‘ convicted .

    Where there is law theres injustice and where theres no law there will be even more injustice . And where the law has lost respect or is seen as ‘their ‘ law instead of ‘our ‘ law you get anarchy .