Alliance must get angry at “Purge of the Progressives”

David Ford is, among many other fine traits, a very nice man.

I’m not. So, here is what I would have said yesterday in the Assembly, including five key questions which need to be genuinely debated.

 

Terror Campaign

This week marks the anniversary of the assassination of Edgar Graham. He was not someone with whom my party always agreed, but someone we always respected. He was a man of great intellect and integrity and frankly he may well have been an Assembly Member right now, had his life not been taken far too early by those engaging in a campaign of terror while refusing to accept people’s democratic right to take an alternative position.

In the last week – by nothing more than good fortune, we may note, no one has been killed. But let us be under no illusions: a campaign of terror has been orchestrated and waged against my party for the past week.

For how else do you describe the experience of a woman living alone, being awoken at 1.30am to find a mob marauding over her house, breaking every single window as they did so?

The Belfast Telegraph sounded full support for Alliance over last week's vicious campaign against its representatives

The Belfast Telegraph expressed profound sympathy for the Bowers and other Alliance representatives under attack – reflecting the public mood

Over the past week, we have seen vandals attacking City Hall; a paint bomb attack which could have killed a baby; the burning out of a Party Office with the neighbours forced to leave home; a young female Councillor forced to leave home; intimidation against another lone female Councillor; an arson attack on another office; a death threat against our MP; frequent nights spent under police guard by our party’s representatives and their families – spouses, children, parents; party representatives forced to leave home or unable to access their workplace; the list goes on.

This campaign has been waged very specifically against the Alliance Party because it was very specifically blamed, by Unionists, for the decision made on Monday night. That is why the attacks have affected Alliance representatives particularly. It was blamed on television and in the press, it was blamed in social media, and it was blamed on leaflets which deliberately singled out the party using complete misinformation about figures and policy in order to do so. That is an outrageous and deliberate twisting of the truth!

At this stage, more than anything, however, I wish to emphasise this point: at least 22 public servants and one press photographer have been injured as a result of these disturbances. Police officers are no different from other public servants – they have a fundamental right to go into and come home from work unharmed. Yet the campaign unleashed has seen them brought into defend the public, as well as our representatives and offices, and they have paid an intolerable toll for doing so. I salute police officers’ and journalists’ courage in serving the public interest generally, including but not limited to our own protection.

 

Questions

For all this there is still, outrageously, an impression being given – implicitly or explicitly – that somehow, unbelievably, the Alliance Party has brought this upon itself!

Let us be very, very clear about what happened on Monday night: Alliance Party Councillors went into an elected chamber, sought to amend a motion to bring it into line with party policy as the most sensible compromise, and then voted for it. That is what happened on Monday night – nothing more, nothing less.

I thought the timing of the motion somewhat unfortunate. Yet here is the key point: the view expressed by some that elected representatives democratically elected should refrain from a debate because others have raised tensions to the extent that that debate may result in violence is not an endorsement of democracy, it is an endorsement of mob rule.

So I will ask a series of questions to the House, as I speak, concerning which different actions could have been taken, and specifically by whom.

In fact, the truth is we went further. For months in advance, going back to the summer, in private and in public, we advised that this issue was to be brought to Council by Nationalists, and we were clear about the outcome we would seek, and about the fact that that outcome may well come to pass. Note again, for months in advance.

Tensions were already high from the summer.

So let us ask the first question, and it is a straight either/or: did the delivery of tens of thousands of leaflets, clearly orchestrated and containing misinformation, help raise or reduce those tensions, do we think?

Unionists did have another route. They could have taken on board the possibility of the designated days outcome, given they held only 21 of the 51 seats, and sought to present potential Irish Republican support for flying the Union Flag at all as a victory for them.

So let us ask the second question, and again it is a straight either/or: did Unionists’ campaign – not just leaflets, but also a petition and sharing social media calls to action – help or hinder the likely security situation last Monday night and in the week following?

To any rational person, the answers are clear. Let us here Unionists be rational here today.

Post-Monday

Of course, tensions had been raised by leaflets, social media, petitions and so on by Unionists. This was well known.

So I do have to ask a third question, of Nationalists: was the decision (and timing of the decision) to name the play park in Newry as it was named a wise or an unwise move?

There has to be an understanding that a lot of the increased tensions outside Belfast were as much as a result of that as they were about Belfast City Council.

Let us then return to what happened subsequent to Monday’s disturbances and vandalism in Belfast.

Let me ask a fourth question, of the Ulster Unionist Party: in the context of rising tensions, did the decision to release a statement from its former Leader, utterly inaccurately and nonsensically, accusing us of being a ‘Sinn Fein delivery mechanism’ – when in fact we had amended Sinn Fein’s policy – help or hinder the deteriorating security situation and the threats against members of my party?

It was noted that the intimidation of our representatives received no condemnation from the Ulster Unionist Party at that stage.

Then we move on to Wednesday night, with mayhem in Carrickfergus and the most sinister attack of all, which could have killed a child in Bangor.

Let me ask a fifth question, this time of the DUP: in the context of attacks threatening children and the burning out of offices forcing members of the public to move home, did comments suggesting the Alliance Party had “opened a pandora’s box” – when all it had done was go into an elected chamber and make a democratic decision – help or hinder the further deteriorating security situation and threats against members of my party?

I fail to see how we can work with the Finance Minister after those comments. In no normal democracy would we have to.

 

Thanks

I would like to extend thanks to the many thousands of people who have shown support for my party and for the police at this juncture. I cannot possibly list them, and they are still doing so. For many in my party, our sense of despair was lifted by the wonderful stories – the neighbours who cleared up our Councillor’s driveway, the people who shook our hands in the street, the donations received from people who openly said they did not support us but respected our right to a view. I would like to thank members of other parties who sent notes and visited too. And I must thank my own party’s representatives, staff and general membership for their wonderful work and solidarity.

I must thank our police officers similarly. In many districts across Northern Ireland, they have worked wonders to keep us safe; often risking their own safety to do so.

 

Progress

We appeal now for all sides to take decisive action to end the mayhem.

Unionist leaders must state clearly and unequivocally – no buts: what happened on Monday night was a democratic decision; all members of Council were fully entitled to cast their vote as they saw fit; and we are obliged without reservation to accept and work with the outcome.

Nationalist leaders must also consider the on-going issue of naming places – GAA grounds, play parks and so on – after even supposed terrorists. We would like to see a commitment, here this morning, to end that immediately.

I repeat: all sides have to make clear their absolute commitment to purely democratic means. We did not seek to overcome one campaign of terror merely to allow the start of another campaign of terror.

Finally, we will also take action. I can announce that we will now re-enter talks on the CSI Strategy, with just one provision we urge all sides to accept. The final document must contain:

  • Proposals on flag-flying (and all sides must commit to not raising the issue of flags until these proposals are agreed as part of a final document);
  • Proposals on parading;
  • Proposals on shared housing and education; and
  • Proposals on the past.

We have stated our concerns and stated what we will do to help, constructively. We now urge others to answer our simple questions, and then commit to similar action. Only then can we end this mayhem, and do so on a long-term and sustainable basis.

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16 thoughts on “Alliance must get angry at “Purge of the Progressives”

  1. Hi IJP,

    There is a lot in there to think about and I would agree with the vast majority of it, however, as always it’s the detail that I’m more interested in as it is hard to see how anyone, including all of the parties, could be against anything mentioned above regarding the proposals in the CSI. Let us just go through some of the points raised that you feel need to be included:

    i) Proposals on flag-flying (and all sides must commit to not raising the issue of flags until these proposals are agreed as part of a final document);

    - I would love to see something brought in here, however, I shall not hold my breath. I compare DCC with what goes on elsewhere. Derry has had a Nat majority for decades now yet the tricolour does not fly over their buildings, why? Well, they don’t feel the need to fly it and/or they don’t want to antagonise the unionist minority for starters. Until political unionism is able to figure out what the GFA was really about regarding respecting everyone’s cultural identity and expression of it I cannot see much movement on this issue; the DUP and it’s poodle wing see no votes in compromise.

    ii) Proposals on parading;

    - We all know what the solution here is, however, the OO, Loyal Orders and ‘kick the Pope’ bands seemingly don’t like it. There needs to be discussions between the residents and the bands who would not normally be welcome in these areas owing to the rather contentious nature of the bands and what they stand for. This happens in Derry with the Apprentice Boys, it happens throughout the West of the North and it is now happening in Crumlin, why cannot it not happen in Belfast and elsewhere or will political unionism remain forever beholden to the likes of lodges such as the one in Sandy Row?

    TBH, I find these bands morally repugnant and note that in Scotland they are viewed by the political establishment with the disgust that they deserve, as an expression of mass sectarianism in an anti-Catholic manifestation. Why are they even remotely tolerated here and thought of as ‘culture’ I shall never know. I look forward to some troll ‘trying’ to make out that the GAA is akin to the OO. We all know it is not.

    I do note your point regarding the GAA and the naming of grounds after paramilitaries. I do have issue with your opinion on this as 1) local pols have no control over this, 2) one community’s terrorists are another’s thin blue line (the RUC being awarded the Victoria Cross and being massively paid off instead of laid off amazes me for a start and many, many Nats find this utterly disgusting)

    iii) Proposals on shared housing and education;

    - Again, fairly benign right? But still there are a lot of contentious issues here too. Let’s look at education for instance. Mike Nesbitt is on record saying he wants all kids to be educated together, no Catholic schools, no Irish medium schools, just one giant great big state system which just sounds like social engineering to me. Our children would learn to respect one another in schools etc, yet this comes from the same man and his party that is on record of being against an Irish Language Act, questioning it’s usefullness and whose party have done all they can to essentially let Nats know that he and his party do not think much about our cultural identity and will do all that he can to stop us from expressing it. Now, why on earth would I want my child sent to some school run by a government part of which detests my identity and will do anything in its power to rid this place of it or sees it as encroaching on their own? It begs belief IMHO.

    I know some will come on and say ‘ah, but that’s what Nats are doing with parades and the union flag at BCC!!!’ but that is patent nonsense. The flag flies on select days as is the case in unionist dominated councils such as LCC (thanks for the link IJP) and 99% of parades pass of without contention or any bother, it is merely the contentious ones which are more ‘anti-Kafflik’ as opposed to an expression of ‘British culture’ (whatever that means?) which create all of the major problems.

    As for housing, yes, I would like for their to be shared housing estates and areas, however, as someone who grew up in a Housing Executive home in North Armagh, I must admit I would still be very apprehensive about this. It is very nice for you and I to say ‘we need shared housing’, and we do, however, the reality on the ground is often very different. These areas are often massively deprived and as has been witnessed of late, people who are economically deprived are engaging in most of the rioting and pogroms. It has to be asked, if I, a Nat, were living in a mixed Housing Executive area in East Belfast last week would I and other Nat neighbours have been targeted?

    iv) Proposals on the past.

    - If we merely go over to Eamonn Mallie’s page, both he and Brian Rowan have a whole host of posts noting the work of Declan Kearney in his talks with Protestant Clergymen, loyalist paramilitaries and civic leaders such as Lord Alderdice, yet where is political unionism in these discussions? The nearest we have is the incredibly tetchy Alex Kane who worries about being caught out by SF et al? Does he know something we don’t know?

    I’m afraid that many of the actors are unwilling to deal with the past. Do we expect the likes of the 2 Govts, security forces and political unionism to come out and tell us what they know? Why is it constantly Reps/Nats who are out front saying they want to start this process? I know many who say ‘ah, but SF aren’t serious about this whole process.’ Yes, they may be true, BUT the only way you and we will all find out is if they are tested on this assertion yet no one is doing this in anything like an adult, constructive manner. All they are concerned with is with petty political point scoring for the short term.

    I sincerely hope that you and your fellow members are safe and sound, this is beyond disgusting what is being meted on them at the moment. I also hope that your party decides to raise its head above the parapet and actually tells us what it thinks as too often it says things which are pretty vague (eg. a whole stanza(!!!) on an Irish Language Act in the last Alliance manifesto, in along with sign language, because sign language is such a contentious issue, right?) and akin to saying you’re for puppies and sunshine and against rain. I and many others want to see some meat on bones

    • Hi FC – it is precisely the point that CSI is hard, not soft; difficult, not easy.

      • This I know, however, I want to see some flesh to chew on as my biggest problem with APNI is that I do not get and ‘real’ answers on matters. Now, you may not want to go through in massive detail my points above and that’s fair enough, you have things on the go at the moment including (I’m guessing of course):

        i) Holiday Season;
        ii) Business interests;
        iii) The systemic violence and intimidation APNI is facing right now;

        but I would like to know someone from APNI’s opinion on these points as having gone through the manifesto I felt that there was nothing really meaty in there. I highlighted the point regarding the Irish language in your party’s manifesto and I feel that in many ways this is systematic of the problem I and many, many others have with APNI, you simply don’t give serious answers for fear of perhaps offending liberal nats and unionists.

      • I do, unfortunately, have an awful lot going on at the moment, very little of which I’m enjoying dealing with!

        I am hugely in agreement that the Alliance Party is guilty of giving the impression that community relations is nice middle-class women sitting around drinking tea and eating buns.

        That must change.

        I’ll do my best go into more detail in future posts.

    • Of course IJP, and as I have said before, I hope you and all of your colleagues are safe and free from violence during this Holiday season.

      I don’t doubt that you will go over what you feel needs to be in the CSI doc and I don’t that I shall pass comment on it too.

      Best of luck friend.

  2. Cedric says:

    IJP I think you’re right Alliance should come out bold and strong.

    I also don’t think it would be exploiting the situation to have a “Fight back against the mob/facism etc and create a better future – donate to the Alliance Party today”.

    I think many people across the Islands feel angered about what’s happened and would probably dip into pockets to show solidarity.

  3. The Speaker would probably have pulled you up after the first sentence on Newry and brought you back to the topic of the motion … and you’d also have run out of time, particularly due to the volume of interruptions you’d have provoked!

    I think you’re right in your last point: Alliance need to start talking about CSI in public, articulating aspects which should be addressed as a priority, and it should go back into the CSI political discussions with that public understanding of their position resonating in people’s ears.

    • It’d have required a brass neck, that’s for sure!

      But yes, I think the last CSI point is important. Alliance left the group not because its issues weren’t being dealt with, but because *the* issues weren’t being dealt with.

  4. harryaswell says:

    Well, far be it for me to disagree with you EJP, but I most certainly do. All this parsimonious, arrogant refusal to see that it was Alliance who opened up this bag of worms and nobody else! Amazing! Sanctimonious and judgemental you may be, but all it does is show that you quite obviously do NOT understand Northern Ireland, it’s people or their politics. Alliance simply MIUST have know all the dangers of this Flag dillemma! Why go where Angels fear to tread? – Anyhow, from what one hears, after the next election Alliance will find itself badly diminished. Nobody to blame but yourselves.

  5. The Listener says:

    Footballcliches, raises interesting points on his perception. He comes from a Nationalist Tradition. I suspect was brought up seperately from the pro-british tradition. I understand where he is coming from. He is fundamentally moderate but his views are probably antagonistic to many on the pro-british side of the fence, just as their views are antagomistic to him.

    He does not like the idea of all our children, where possible being educated together. If they were so educated views and attitudes would meld together, and there would be mutual respect. There might even be a mutually agreed place for the Irish Language as an academic subject, worthy of study as a gateway to Irish culture and history for those who are interested. Much in the same way as Latin may be offered in our schools. You do not discriminate, or feel fundamentally hostile to those who have been your close friends, whatever their political views. There may be disagreement but there would be enhanced respect and in any case the lines between views would not be as sharp as they are now.

    He hails the good sense of the Derry folk in not flying the Irish flag over their public buildings. They have probably diminished the use of the Union Flag, but that is rather more electorally acceptable in Derry than in Belfast. Perhaps they do not exercise a majority mandate to fly the tricolour because they have the sense to avoid unneccessary public unrest, and look to exploit the promising year ahead for the City.

    In Belfast City Council, SF and SDLP pushed out the boat to vote the Union Flag out of existence. They must have forseen that there was bound to be an explosion of public anger from those who have not the intellect to appreciate a democratic decision. Alliance could have voted for the retention of the flag, flying every day. I doubt that that would have lost them votes, because most of their members are reasonable, good hearted people, who in a quiet way accept and support the constitutional status quo. They could have abstained, which would not have avoided the violence, but they might by doing so have deflected the anger of the crowd against SF and SDLP, who lacked the political maturity.

    Alliance acted on principle, they achieved something for both sides and now they have, and will pay some form of electoral price for achieving a principled solution, a compromise which really should settle the matter for the immediate future.

    It is all quite sad.

    • Hi TL,

      Thanks for your points, I hope you don’t mind if I go through them below and how they may apply to myself so that I may either give you my own understanding on the whole matter and clarify any points that may be misinterpreted.

      ‘He does not like the idea of all our children, where possible being educated together. If they were so educated views and attitudes would meld together, and there would be mutual respect.’

      I would have to disagree with you on the above as it lacks a whole lot of subtlety and nuance tbf. I have been educated Stateside, Southern and Northern Ireland and have been educated in very different schools including a RC Grammar in the North as well as state schools in the US with every nation under the sun in my class. My problem with it being applied in the North is that I am not exactly trusting of social engineering in the North.

      Nor do I believe that being educated with others who are different to you will necessarily engender respect for one another all of the time. As I have many friends who went to an integrated school in North Armagh where they kicked 30 flavours out of each other on a regular basis I am sceptical.

      Further, as someone who has been to a Catholic Grammar, we were never ‘taught’ to hate Protestants, in fact many of my friends and I seemingly knocked around with Protestants when we were in QUB Law Library after upper 6th.

      My problem is that we have political parties who push for ALL of our kids to be educated together when they are so openly hostile to Irish cultural expressions. I mean, let us be honest here, are YOU ok with kids being taught in Irish? I remind you that Irish medium schools are in fact religious free environments.

      ‘There might even be a mutually agreed place for the Irish Language as an academic subject, worthy of study as a gateway to Irish culture and history for those who are interested. Much in the same way as Latin may be offered in our schools.’

      I found the above somewhat insightful tbh, how you would compare Latin, a dead language and it’s teaching in schools with Irish, something of a Freudian slip on your part perhaps? Further, why use the word ‘might’? In case it has escaped your notice, more kids are being schooled in Irish, their is demand for this and it is increasing so what is your problem (if any) with this?

      ‘You do not discriminate, or feel fundamentally hostile to those who have been your close friends, whatever their political views. There may be disagreement but there would be enhanced respect and in any case the lines between views would not be as sharp as they are now.’

      I can tell you from my own personal experience and that of close friends that this is not always the case.

      It also boils down to a question of choice from parents also. RC schools outperform many state schools year in, year out. Just look at the 4 RC Grammars in Newry (1 of which I attended); they are superb schools that produce well rounded, well educated kids all the time. When I have a child and if I do happen to live in Ireland they will be going to one of them. Do you think that parents, especially Nat parents, will have pols tamper with this. This is a vote loser for Nat pols, I would love to see APNI or any unionist party dare mess with these schools as there would be sheer hell to pay.

      ‘He hails the good sense of the Derry folk in not flying the Irish flag over their public buildings. They have probably diminished the use of the Union Flag, but that is rather more electorally acceptable in Derry than in Belfast. Perhaps they do not exercise a majority mandate to fly the tricolour because they have the sense to avoid unneccessary public unrest, and look to exploit the promising year ahead for the City.’

      Yet, they could have on any occasion for years prior to this. Heck, they could’ve back in the 80s or 90s but they avoided it. Incase it had escaped your notice, SF was actually very open to compromise while the SDLP simply wanted the union flag never to fly over BCC property. Of course, this doesn’t fit in with many people’s narrative but what would I care?

      ‘In Belfast City Council, SF and SDLP pushed out the boat to vote the Union Flag out of existence. They must have forseen that there was bound to be an explosion of public anger from those who have not the intellect to appreciate a democratic decision. Alliance could have voted for the retention of the flag, flying every day. I doubt that that would have lost them votes, because most of their members are reasonable, good hearted people, who in a quiet way accept and support the constitutional status quo. They could have abstained, which would not have avoided the violence, but they might by doing so have deflected the anger of the crowd against SF and SDLP, who lacked the political maturity.’

      That is a very simplistic opinion above if you don’t mind me saying. APNI do get a lot of Nat votes in certain unionist constituencies as they are fairly civil, middle of the road and willing to compromise on issues. You are of course making the assumption that flying the flag in line with other your opinion and beliefs is reasonable, yet as has been shown, Belfast is no longer a unionist city, it is turning green which you probably do not like. Are we in the UK, yes, of course, but we are not as British as Finchley (whatever that really means), and as has been noted you actually GOT SF and the SDLP to vote to have the union flag fly over City Hall when many would have expected them to object, pure and simple.

      My advice is this, do not feign that something is morally repulsive when only a few miles down the road your political brothers and sisters are doing the EXACT same thing, something they brought in by vote on their own accord, it smacks of hypocrisy and shows up this hissy fit and rioting for being as shallow as a puddle. It is not a grass roots up rising, it’s an astro-turf uprising; it’s fake.

      ‘Alliance acted on principle, they achieved something for both sides and now they have, and will pay some form of electoral price for achieving a principled solution, a compromise which really should settle the matter for the immediate future.’

      They did act on principle and good for them. What price they will pay, good or bad, I have no idea as of yet. I know that lots of people are angry with the whole thing but I ask myself, are they REALLY APNI voters? Will the few/many that they lose be made up for by others who have abstained and are disgusted with the orchestrated violence they have seen, with the mealy mouthed replies from Nesbitt and Robbo?

      I would ask some who have commented on threads to actually think tactically for a moment, in a cool and objective manner; do the guys outside City Hall or commenting on this FB page really strike you as APNI voters? (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Loyalists-against-Democracy/439581669430547?fref=ts). Will some vote against Naomi or abstain next time? I don’t doubt it, however, a lot more Nats and/or Catholics now live in East Belfast and while they will not get a Nat into Westminster for this seat they would much rather prefer Naomi there than some half wit from the DUP or elsewhere.

  6. [...] Before the day that’s in it unfolds (the report into state collusion with loyalist paramilitaries in the murder of solicitor Pat Finucane), with death threats against politicians again in the air, Ian Parsley turns to a recent anniversary of a political assassination which by and large went unnoted and unnoticed by the local media: [...]

  7. James Campbell says:

    I am resident in England but originate in Belfast. Looked at from “over here”, the rejection of a democratic vote is seen as perverse; in effect a rejection of the values that “good” Britons treasure, preferring to ape (no pun intended) the “bad” British values that so much of the rest of the world despises. Personally, I have sent a token donation to the AP, despite regarding the Party as having the otherworldly characteristics of that bird which flies round in ever decreasing circles.

    A particular wool-encased attitude of the AP is the shoehorning of integrated housing and education as a solution to every problem. Even if it would work (and I can’t say I believe it could ever work), how many generations would have to pass before the current segregation ceased to dominate social reality. Would you compulsorily purchase housing, compulsorily decant existing occupants and compulsorily rehouse them? Would you close existing faith (largely RC)schools, confiscate them, and bus children into areas they regard as hostile?

    And would these aggressive policies provide an environment for mutual understanding – or mutual fear. I’d love to see the draft curriculum which would satisfy both sides or the spectrum of nationalisms (British and Irish). Simple enough for mathematics, perhaps; not so for social science or history. Looking at AP policy documents, I suspect the solution would be to exclude history altogether or have Harry Turtledove write it.

    In the small town where I now live there are 2 state primary schools, 1 RC primary school, and 2 state comprehensive schools. Many, but not all, RC children go to a nearby city to an RC comprehensive. This town has no recent history of religious intolerance, except for a sparcely-attended annual July Orange Parade, mainly supported by non-locals. Separate education isn’t per se a problem.

    In my long-gone schooldays at a faith school, we were taught that there were two Christian Commandments (as distinct from the Old Testament 10). “Love God” and “Love your neighbour”. “Neighbour” was defined as: “Mankind of every description, without any exception of persons, even those who injure us or differ from us in religion”. In the abstract we believed this; in the real world, things seemed otherwise. Perhaps one day the APNI will leave its sterile abstract world.

    • Hi James – thanks for joining us.

      Great post too. I agree with more of it than I could possibly openly admit to… :)

      Let’s just say if I see another motion put forward by the Alliance Party on “Shared Housing”…

  8. [...] Parsley (IJP) has a rather interesting post on his own site where he details what he believes David Ford should have said at the Assembly and ties this in with ongoing discussions surrounding the Programme for a Shared Future/CSI [...]

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