The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Nuala McAllister visited an A level Politics class last week to ask students how they viewed Belfast and, in line with her theme for her year as Lord Mayor of ‘Global Belfast’, how the city could be more welcoming.
The Alliance Party politician expressed her dismay at the rise of hate crime in Belfast and explained to the students that she believed that sectarian attitudes were still prevalent in Northern Ireland. She drew a contrast between patriotism in America which she described as a “good thing” compared to Northern Ireland where “our identity divides us.” The Lord Mayor heard contributions from students who said that there were parts of Belfast they would not feel safe going into, but also some who suggested that Belfast was “at its best when putting on events such as Culture Night and Belfast Pride.”
Responding to a pupil who said they were discouraged from getting more involved in politics by the fact that politicians “always follow their party line” McAllister expressed her distaste for the strict way in which the two largest parties in Northern Ireland are run. She described the way Sinn Fein organise their party as “almost military, pun probably intended”, and claimed of the DUP, that while they will publicly deny this, “DUP MLAs are made to sign their resignation letter on their first day as an MLA” so that this can be used to enforce discipline.
When asked about her own career aspirations she said that while she had stood for her party in the previous assembly election in North Belfast she “would not stand for an Assembly that is not functioning.” McAllister seemed more intent on maintaining her place on Belfast City Council where she might be able to have some influence and actually get down to the work of government, rather than the theoretical elevation to becoming an MLA with no real power
The Lord Mayor also touched on the issues of sexism in politics and integrated education in her hour-long talk with students of a Belfast grammar school.
Finn Purdy is a student from Belfast, currently studying at Trinity College Dublin.