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Saturday, 27 March 2021

Alliance Party 2021 Virtual Spring Conference Speech

In approaching today’s debate I watched the documentary as part of the Imagine! Annual Festival of Ideas and Politics about the painting which now hangs in the Senate Chamber named ‘The House will divide' recording all the members of the first Assembly elected in 1998.

Filmed in 2002 just as the Assembly fell, once again, looking back it is not hard to acknowledge how things have changed, for good or ill.  Northern Ireland is a vastly different and diverse place. Bob McCartney is gone, Alliance are much bigger and the Ulster Unionists now the fifth largest party.

But, nearly twenty three years on from the Good Friday Agreement and nineteen from the documentary the people of Northern Ireland deserve better than an Assembly that has entirely failed to progress any substantive social change since foundation.

Such issues have just either been blocked, vetoed, deferred or defeated for decades.

I’m proud to serve as an Alliance MLA in the Assembly and have worked hard for the people of North Down over the last year dealing with over nine hundreds individual issues, responding to legislation, working to get support to businesses, improved investment in Active Travel, a better Planning System and pushing for government to get real about tackling the Cost of Division but if devolution is really to succeed it must deliver progress not deadlock, dither and the need to defer to others when it’s determined too difficult to deal with.

Far too often my LGBT brothers and sisters, women and others have had to wait for Stormont to fall and power to pass to Westminster for change to happen.

This can’t continue.

But as Harvey Milk said “Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.” The duty to deliver change rests on progressives to put themselves forward and get elected or help push others across the line.

Northern Ireland’s new rainbow of minorities need to stand-up and get elected to shake up and shine brightly at Stormont

It cannot be right that John Blair and I are the only gays in the Assembly nor that females are so poorly represented.

With the old certainties of the past now cast aside, now is the Chance for Change.

We need an Assembly reflective of society focused on the future not stuck frozen in the past

An awful lot has changed since 1998 but little in terms of the rigid structures of the Assembly which just solidify separation.

The first act of a new Assembly should be focused on uniting and celebrating our new diverse and different society not dividing and splitting up MLAs into two tribes

We ought to be the first, not the last, UK nation to ban Conversion Therapy, leading the way, not brought kicking and screaming.

But this won’t happen unless Alliance continues to surge ahead and turning polling statistics into more votes and more representatives.

I am confident we can do that with courage and determination. Alan Turing, a personal hero of mine, once said “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.” 

Let’s get done and grasp the Chance for Change.