An Alliance For The Future?

The recent comments by Independent MLA Claire Sugden where she suggested that those who lived through the troubles should perhaps step aside for a new generation of political leaders, Sugden named younger representatives from across the spectrum, Megan Fearon, Claire Hanna, Steven Agnew, Chris Lyttle, Sandra Overend, Gary Middleton and herself. This is an interesting viewpoint and one I have expressed myself over the years – those who have endured the worst that NI has to offer can (understandably) have a skewed view of what the future holds.

Stormont is not a young place, many have passed comment on the future being shaped by grey men in grey suits – this is where Sugden showed a great level of respect for the diversified nature of the NI political scene, she referenced 7 “younger” leaders – 4 female, 3 male – 2 nationalist, 3 unionist, 2 other – a broad spectrum.

This brings me to the Alliance Party – a party held by many to be the great espousers of Shared FutureTM, but a party firmly at the upper end of the age spectrum. With the current inter-party wars raging on the hill, the time is rife for the Alliance Party to up their game. DUP vs UUP, DUP & UUP v SF, SDLP v SDLP, TUV v Everyone Else – arguably now more than ever the Alliance Party have an opportunity to rise above the rest and show their pedigree as responsible leaders for the province. But who among them will be leading for long?

Of the 8 current Alliance MLAs, Judith Cochrane, Kieran McCarthy and Anna Lo have stated that they will not be seeking re-election. Of the 5 remaining MLAs, only Chris Lyttle is under 40 – and if Trevor Lunn wins re-election at the next time of asking and serves a full 5 year term, he would be older then than the current father of the house is now. At the expected time of the next election, 40% of sitting Alliance candidates will be above retirement age.

In fact if we discount those 3 Alliance MLAs who are stepping aside, 60% of their MLAs are over 64 (compared to DUP 16%, SDLP 14%, SF 14%, UUP 23%) only UKIP have a higher figure with their sole MLA, David McNarry being 67 years old. Of the oldest 20 assembly members, Alliance make up 15%, when the party actually only make up 7.4% of the chamber in general.

If Alliance want to seize the initiative and engage with the disenfranchised younger element of society that should make up a significant part of their base support, perhaps discussions need to be had on what a good candidate looks like to those, such as myself, who are sick of seeing the same entrenched, battle weary grey men in grey suits flinging old accusations and old rhetoric at each other across the benches.

An opportunity sits in front of the Alliance Party, they can try to invigorate the Northern Irish political scene with fresh voices, fresh views and fresh ideas. Of the 10 MLAs co-opted into the assembly in the last year, 50% of them have been under the age of 35 – a refreshing approach from most parties, the Alliance Party have not had to co-opt any members during this assembly so their approach is untested, one hopes though that when it comes time to put serious weight behind candidates in the next election, an eye to the future is firmly to the fore – I for one feel there are more than enough MLAs eligible for winter fuel subsidies.



Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.

  • chrisjones2

    Great to see the party of equality wanting to deselect MLAs on grounds of age

  • Cavehill

    They aren’t doing that Chris.

  • Cavehill

    The Alliance Westminster election candidates were quite a young bunch as I recall, so I can imagine that the team going forward for the Assembly election will be relatively young too. I can see the Assembly group after the next election looking younger than it did in 2011 and I would think with more women than before too (not hard to improve on two though).

  • Always good to see some fresh thinking and new ideas, although part of me wonders if lack of experience is already a factor at Stormont to a lesser degree than other issues. A situation which would be helped or hindered by the old hands standing aside? I’m honestly not sure.

  • chrisjones2

    My apology. The suggetsion is to squeeze them out as they are too old

  • Greenflag 2

    Neither grey heads nor non grey heads matters . Its whats inside the head is what matters . When you have politicians whether young or grey headed who believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that Evolution is only a theory but not a scientific fact or that global warming is bunkum then why would anyone take such politicians as capable of building the ‘future ‘ when they are so firmly attached to the past be it their local sectarian past or the long outdated myths they continue to believe ?

  • doopa

    I think it is more a question of allowing new voices to come to the fore. The ‘old guard’ haven’t made a dent so why continue with them? Are you expecting different results with the same input?

  • Cavehill

    The suggestion in this article, but not the position or policy of the party as far as I can see.

  • mjh

    Is ageism the new racism?

  • Zeno

    ” those who lived through the troubles should perhaps step aside for a new generation of political leaders,”

    I’d love to see them go, but I’m not hearing anything from these young leaders that would make people vote for them. Speak up, tell us what your policies are.

  • eamoncorbett

    The only thing to be said about the future generation is , the accusations cannot be bandied about in the same way as before , but there is such anthing as DNA , meaning that the sins of the father etc.

  • James7e

    Sadly, each new generation grows up with the previous ones. The likes of Gerry Adams has been working hard to poison the minds of his own and subsequent generations for all of his adult life. Thus, while the new generation of Sinn Fein may not have actually killed anybody, they are likely to havw been taught from the cradle that doing so was acceptable.

  • They’re all young fogeys!
    It’ll make no difference what age they are. It’s the system of politics in NI that is the basic problem. Change that for something resembling a real democracy & not a sectarian headcount & we will progress.

  • gendjinn

    A perfect illustration of the unionist siege mentality that all taigs are terrorists out to murder benign, innocent unionists in their sleep, supped from the mother’s milk indeed.

    This is precisely why the only way to resolve the problems in the six counties is re-unification. The bitter, blind, bigoted hate has to be diluted out because as unionists like James7e clearly demonstrate, it will never be allowed to die out.

  • barnshee

    Ah so Gerry and co don`t say/believe that killing was wrong?

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I must say, with no disrespect to anyone, I really dislike the argument that goes along the lines of “it’s time for the old folks to move over and let the young ones in”.

    The argument that young people haven’t been afflicted by the troubles and are therefore better equipped to deal with the post-troubles atmosphere doesn’t make sense to me. The troubles did not happen spontaneously; they were the product of well over a century, at least, of inter-community strife which the youngest generations have sadly inherited just as their forebears have.

    I also dislike the idea that older people are inherently bitter and set in their ways. I don’t think this is the case, and Paisley is an example of how people who have been through the fire can come to change their view and provide real leadership in a way that those who have not been around for long cannot.

    There is absolutely no point in having people take over, whether they are younger or not, only to continue echoing the same old failed rhetoric, grandstanding and whataboutery of the past. If the ideas are fresh, spoken with conviction and driven by a determination to succeed, who cares about the age or background of the person putting them out there ?

  • aquifer

    I was just thinking that the DUP are not far enough away from the street politics of threat and illegality to be able to play holier than thou with Sinn Fein. Alliance are great at holier than thou, but if they were good at politics they would be in charge by now.

    The demographics here are such that age could become a schism, as many of the younger generation do not know enough about our lamentable past to take it seriously.

    Ignorance really could be bliss if young people decide to do politics. They had better do it quick before another generation of grey men award themselves fat index linked pensions at their expense.

    How hard can it be to spend a massive subvention and keep people employed in a country with first world education and infrastructure?

  • Zeno

    I was right with you up until the Paisley line. Then you lost me. He was the cause of most of the problems until a title was waved in front of him and NEVER NEVER NEVER became Well ok then.

  • Gaygael

    Alliance nominated 2 men in both north down and East Antrim. Which is hugely disappointing.

    Let’s hope they make up for it other selections.

  • Cavehill

    Yeah I saw that. It’s not deairable thay they haven’t got gender balance in those seats, but I think calling it ‘hugely disappointing’ is a bit overwrought.

  • James7e

    “all taigs are terrorists out to murder benign, innocent unionist”.

    Not what I said at all. It seems you are a graduate of the Jeremy Clarkson school of misrepresenting, exaggerating, and then finally falsely attributing comments to others – and it is grating to say the least.

    It is very, very clear in my comment that I am referring to Sinn Fein, not ‘all taigs’ (whatever that actually means – not a word I use, or ever have used).

    I would suggest the wilful blindness is yours, not mine.

  • gendjinn

    “The likes of Gerry Adams has been working hard to poison the minds of his own and subsequent generations for all of his adult life.”

    That’s all taigs to those of us who can read.

    And your snide little Clarkson comment is the height of hilarity coming from someone who accused me of justifying Kingsmills because I knew what was in the HET report and you didn’t.

  • James7e

    ” “The likes of Gerry Adams has been working hard to poison the minds of his own and subsequent generations for all of his adult life.”
    That’s all taigs to those of us who can read.”

    No. It. Isn’t. (Although this silly assertion you’ve made does rather prove the Jeremy Clarkson thing).

    That is the minds of all people in NI, of whatever religion or national allegiance, since the words and deeds of Adams have had the effect of polarising the communities, pitting them against each other, and breeding long-lasting ethnic tensions. Mostly, the beneficiaries of this have been extreme politicians on both sides, and particularly Sinn Fein, whom have founded lucrative careers on such. Sinn Fein, as an entity, must have raked in untold millions upon millions down the decades – all while convincing their voters that they live simple, humble lives. Where does all the money go, one wonders.

    And, while I doubt if anyone besides yourself is eager for a re-run of the long, tedious exchange you dragged me into regarding our Kingsmills discussion: once again, for clarity, I think your choice of words does clearly demonstrate a rather slimey attempt to stick a half-baked justification for it under the radar. No amount of very amateurish pseudo-lawyerly posturing from you will change that (and -sadly – neither will the timeworn Republican credo that shouting your opponent down will eventually prove you right). You even seem rather proud of it now for some reason, but I have nothing new to say on that one – it is all there to read if anyone is interested. But let’s stick to the topic at hand, hmm?

  • Cosmo

    Forget the age thing – hows about a’rule’ every MLA should have lived outside Ireland for minimum of 10 plus adult years ?

  • Granni Trixie

    The argument as presentd panders to ageism.
    I have met too many twenty year olds gong on forty in their thnking to subscribe to the view that ‘banish the oldies’ and all will be well.

    What matters more than age for a political party to thrive and ultimately benefit the country than age is does it do legacy planning and does it attract new blood?

    ‘New blood’ can come from any age group – just needs to attract people with different perspectives from which to challenge the usual ways of doing things and having ideas for addressing problems,

    For example this could be a parent whose children are out of the demanding stage or someone say In their fifties taking early retirement. These people can be an invaluable resource – bringing experience,time and energy to the table.

    If a party has any sense it will also target youth and welcome LGBT as part of a renewal strategy, recognising that as has been suggested, we need to include the perspectives of people who have not lived through the agony of the troubles.

    In Alliance, whatever age average you come up with, I am comfortable (but not complacent!) that young people seem to be thriving in our midst and I am sure that Many will rise to the top.

  • Granni Trixie

    If naming sectarianism instead of the usual denial or aspiring to a sharing society is holier than thou, so be it – I have to follow my heart. For me Allance has been empowering – a chance to resist same old,same old.
    bUt I don’t follow your logic as regards if Alliance were “any good” we would be dominating the political scene. It’s not about domination but effectively exerting influence – Politics is the art of the possible and even a relatively small party can exert influence. At at times it can be kingmaker for example when we voted in the first Belfast SF Lord Mayor – not a vote catcher but doing what we thought was right for progress.
    In several Council we provided the first nonunionist Lord Mayor. We also provided two Speakers at Stormont and on a cross community vote of MLas, provided the Justice Minister.

    in the context of NI a cross community party has an uphill task so would you at least recognise the difficulty of the task?

  • Granni Trixie

    Or rules which state that MLas can serve only two or three terms?

  • Granni Trixie

    I have long felt that ageism is the new sexism!

  • Granni Trixie

    Any evidence for this assertion?
    I can tell you that I know some MLas of several parties who have self selected to leave the stage on grounds of age and choosing to life differently. Anna Lo for instance wants to do just that plus I’ve heard her say that she always intended to give it two terms.

    Sounds like good sense to me. …sounds like empowerment. Duty is me thing but when you’ve done it for a certain length of time you’re off the hook to stay or go it’s about choice.

    Think of politicians for instance who have health and/or family problems and yet who stay on …and on…and on.

  • Cosmo

    And that they haven’t holidayed in Florida, more than once!
    Let’s look elsewhere for expertise. Let’s face it with easy travel and communications nowadays, there’s less excuse for being a stolid ‘loyal’ home-bird, who’s attended every equivalent of a local village fete. (I suppose that includes funerals too.)

  • whatif1984true

    Poisoning goes on on both sides. It is not hard work but the result of segregation. Throughout the world there are very many examples of “Themuns and Us”.
    Sinn Fein have increased their vote over time despite the increasing time gap from the GFA (possibly levelling out now). The question is what is going on in the minds of those who are not hardline republican but who have gradually shifted over to Sinn Fein. Has the troubles history gone away. Attitudes to SF have changed yet the leaders remain the same and the party line is set in concrete for new recruits/Mla’s etc.
    The poison is that the current leaders have THEIR history to accommodate and their direction (and that of the whole party) is dictated by it. Until they have gone away things will not change substantially. Even when they are away there will still be a history wove into new directions which may be a force for good or bad, time will tell.

  • Gaygael

    I suppose that says more about the importance you place on women’s representation in the assembly.
    For me its important. And for most progressives it would be too.

  • Lorcs1

    I’ve said it before on this site. Age is just a number, a 64 year old is every bit as qualified to be an effective politician as a 24 year old, if not moreso.

    But what you would achieve by removing the battle-weary oldies, is the removal of those with very strong links to despicable acts of the past.

    A lot of the older generation in SF are self confessed “ex-combatants”, a point which is raised time and time again by political opponents, and therefore used to breed distrust of the themmuns in their political congregations. We as a society have moved away from violence, from blowing holes in each other. Those ex-combatants were essential to ensure that transformation, but eventually they need to step back and let those who didn’t come from a background of violence, lead the way.

    Similarly some in the Unionist political community carry entrenched opinions that will never change. Particularly if you look at Edwin Poots performance on Nolan the other evening. He was practically foaming at the mouth whilst spitting bile across the table at Alex Maskey. I get the impression if Martin McGuiness started to walk on water, make the blind see again, and feed 40,000 with a batch loaf and a tin of John West, that Poots would still call him the Devil. One can only assume that this represents his view of the entire Catholic/Nationalist/Republican community as shown by the “hold my nose” comments which extended to the SDLP who never supported violence. Similarly Arlene Foster’s Freudian slip about rogue and renegade SF/SDLP politicians shows the complete distrust of the CNR community.

    Look around the province, in the most part, both sides now live together, work together and socialise together, almost to the point where the sides almost no longer exist. Previously, almost every area was either one side or the other. Catholic estates, protestant estates, Catholic towns/villages, protestant towns/villages. Slowly but surely these are all fading away, with some notable exceptions (areas of social deprivation etc).

    Politics does not currently reflect the situation on the ground in NI, and current leadership, I’m not sure if it can.

  • Jenny Muir

    The post – and Claire Sugden’s original comments – assumes that all older people were here during the Troubles, or perhaps to be generous that they might otherwise have been affected 2nd hand through family connections. However, a lot of people brought up in NI left during that period and some have now returned. They are older but have had a different experience. There are also people living in NI now who come from different countries and do not have any personal connection with the past – they may also be older. And presumably we do want people of different nationalities and ethnicites in the Assembly… er…

  • Cavehill

    Yes, clearly. You win this round of progressives-one-upmanship.

  • Gaygael

    Oh touched a nerve eh? Yes progressives don’t care about women’s representation

  • Cavehill

    You played the person rather than the ball on this. If you wanted to discuss properly you could have described why your comment wasn’t overwrought rather than attempt to criticise the person you’re debating.

  • Gaygael

    Gender balance in representative politics is a very important issue.
    Alliance missed a trick to remedy the under representation of women at Stormont. This is a poor show from a supposedly progressive party

  • Mirrorballman

    For every Claire Hanna or Steve Agnew you’ll get a Gavin Robinson or a Joleen Bunting. Being a young person doesn’t come with guarantees that you’ll be more forward looking than the older troubles generation. In fact a lot of the time young people are even more extreme in their views.
    It’s not the age of our politicians we need to change. It’s their mindsets that we need to change.

  • Greenflag 2

    I’m not a HIndu -Reincarnation not my thing .

    But you are correct in asserting the importance of heart which is why I cheered as Northern Ireland qualified for the European Nations and again when the Republic kept their hopes alive .

    IIRC even Greenflag was persuaded by the late Ian Livingston’s blogsite that a fair repartition had become increasingly impractical given the changed demographics within NI over the past 40 years.

    Greenflag 2 would maintain that it’s not Ulster that is doomed -There will always be an Ulster – just as there’ll always be an England , Scotland , Ireland and Wales . Its the NI State that has no longer term political future as I see it . SInce 1972 Stormont has been switched on and off /suspended /reborn /resuspended / reborn etc that one can only view it’s current Assembly Pantomime as just another episode in the longest running dysfunctional institution on the planet . They’d win an Oscar or an Emmy if there was an award category for longest running political comedy among emerging democracies.

    Though ‘repartition ‘ may now appear unworkable -in extremis – anything is possible . Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn has stated his belief that a UI is the solution although he also states that its a matter for the Irish people . Notably he did not state it was for the Northern Irish people .The Tories carry on as they always have and always will – heads in the sand – ignore them long enough and they’ll go away .

    Can one honestly blame them ?

  • Cosmo

    agree with a lot of what you say, but believe Paisley was a pernicious force breeding fear in the moderate middle on both sides, and pushing them into more extreme and fundamentalist positions.
    he was an absurd ‘joke’ in mid sixties to most Unionists. it is a scary fact he ended up as first minister. And I blame Blair, for part of that outcome, too.

  • chrisjones2

    ‘Different results’ …well they do get elected

  • tmitch57

    I guess I can’t read or at least not with republican bifocals on. I didn’t see that at all. I read it as an attack on Sinn Fein. Maybe you simply equate Sinn Fein with nationalism.

  • gendjinn

    The fullstop between two sentences.

    I accept it wasn’t his intent after his clarification. Even limiting the comment to SF, it is still utter rubbish and my point about Unionism’s inveterate, inter-generational hatred stands.

    It’s become very obvious from reading this site that the hateful characterizations of Republicans/Nationalists by Unionists is nothing but projection of themselves onto the other. Ask any psychologist, it’s classic behaviour.

    David Ervine’s comment about wallpaper resonates ever louder.

  • Greenflag 2

    “Turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the conduct of unionist politicians in NI led to the civil rights movement and the sectarian reaction of ‘loyalists’.”

    Indeed . Peaceful and protracted is the way to go . I would’nt write off Jeremy Corbyn just yet .

  • Zeno

    “One can only assume that this represents his view of the entire Catholic/Nationalist/Republican community as shown by the “hold my nose” comments which extended to the SDLP who never supported violence. ”

    I don’t know if you can assume that. Did he mention the SDLP?
    I’d agree with most of the rest of your post.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I’m not sure what Meagan Ferron’s actually done to deserve praise, it seems like a token Ògra Shinn Féin mention to me. I’m not attacking her selection win or getting a degree but people will want a bit more than strong party networking and academic qualifications here.

    Was she a councillor? Did she propose any legislation like her party colleague Phil Flanighan? Has she made any notable television appearances? Has she gained any reputation as a politician working in five committees?

    What inspiration does she offer young people?

    Young female Sinn Féin politician to look out for … Even though she’s in the South and maybe a Few years older … Lynn Bolann.

    People like Bernadette Devlin set the standard for young politicians female AND male … The new generation doesn’t have a character like her in politics here.

  • Will McConnell

    Belfast Alliance councillors Emmett McDonagh-Brown and Sian O’Neill are both close personal friends and (unbiased as I am) I think they’ll go far

  • Will McConnell

    Alliance also have very good future politicians in their youth and LGBT wings. Makes me hopeful for the future to be honest.

  • Granni Trixie

    Agreed. I only know them as an activist but their energy and commitment gives me a lift even in these dispiriting times. They exemplify why a party needs new blood.