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.”
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs