Sunday, 20 January 2013

Ripples of Hope at Lagan Valley Alliance AGM

New Lagan Valley Alliance Chairperson
Aaron McIntyre
I was very grateful to be invited to Lagan Valley Alliance AGM on Thursday evening (17 January 2013) in Lisburn as Guest Speaker in my roles as Vice Chair of the Party and Alliance Party Councillor on North Down Borough Council. Cllr Jennifer Coulter handed over the baton to Aaron McIntryre who was elected as New Chairperson of the Association along with a vibrant team.

Since being invited as Speaker in 2012 Northern Ireland has experienced significant civil unrest involving Protests, illegal road blocks and Parades, Riots, attempted Murder of Police Officer, Death threats against Alliance and other elected representatives, attacks on the homes of Councillors, Constituency Offices destroyed and attacked. 

These events have taken place after Belfast City Council voted to fly Union Flag on Designated Days, preceded by a coordinated campaign to whip up tensions involving delivery of 40,000 bogus leaflets by the DUP and Ulster Unionist Party in specific areas across Belfast misrepresenting the issue and the Alliance Party in the misguided belief that it would help unseat Naomi Long as Alliance MP for East Belfast. 

Harold Macmillan once remarked "Events, my dear boy, events". These events have transformed political dialogue across Northern Ireland towards the issue of a Shared Society, what it should look like, how it can be built and whether you are for or against Rule of Law. 

As Naomi Long MP recently stated we can no longer try and build our future on an earthquake zone where the tectonic plates shift when the Past, Parades, Flags, Emblems, Identity or other issues arise. The time for action is now.

Alliance has been Leading Change on these issues and recognises that after weeks of civil strife the thirst for leadership and hope is strong. Alliance is providing this leadership and hope in the knowledge that change can and does happen - whether it's the end of Apartheid in South Africa, fall of the Berlin Wall, election and reelection of President Obama or transformation of  Irish Society the winds of change continue to blow. 

Locally we now have generally non sectarian workplaces with much reduced levels of  discrimination, rise of Integrated Education and general eradication of discrimination in housing allocation led by the Housing Executive. 

Sinn Fein are in government and support the police. Sinn Fein share power with the DUP. Both serve together as First and deputy First Ministers. Naomi Long is MP for East Belfast. Dr Stephen Farry MLA serves diligently as Minister for Employment and Learning alongside David Ford MLA as Northern Ireland's courageous Justice Minister. Change is possible.

Bobby Kennedy once remarked "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

I am immensely proud of the courageous actions taken by Alliance across Northern Ireland to create these ripples of hope whether by having the courage and leadership to deliver a  compromise solution over the Union Flag issue at Belfast City Hall or outlining that the only way forward is to work together to build a Shared Future. Whipping up tribal tensions by huddling together in a Unionist Forum or pursing political stunts like a Border Poll risk bringing us back to our Divided Past. We stand against these moves and for a positive Shared Society based firmly on not mere tolerance but respect and acceptance releasing that each individual has a distinct identity to be valued and celebrated.

The crusade to create a Shared Society continues. The battle is hard, the decisions are difficult but we will succeed. We are on the right of history. We owe it to future generations to resolve those issues that continue to divide us, settle the tectonic plates and build a stable Shared Society together.  

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