The Alliance Party – ‘Leading Change for a Shared Future’ (except the LGBT Community?) and the consequences

It’s been almost a week since a private members’ bill for marriage equality was raised on the floor of the Assembly by amongst others, Stephen Agnew for the Green Party together with Catriona Ruane and Bronwyn McGahan of Sinn Fein. Unfortunately, this piece of progressive legislation was not passed on the day, however, I believe that the populace in the North in general is a fairly relaxed and progressive lot in relation to social issues (the young are at least) who would not have as much of a problem or any with this legislation as say their political representatives say they do or they in fact do. Whilst I am not of the LGBT community, like many I have friends and family who are and  I believe that they should have the same rights under the law as absolutely everyone else. If I wanted to be somewhat funny about the whole matter, I would go as far as saying that being in a loveless marriage should be a right open to all (the Onion’s opinion takes, as always, a quite hilarious slant) here in the North, regardless of sexual preference.

In many ways, the make up of the vote was largely to be expected, the vast majority of Unionists voted against the bill with notable exceptions (Basil McCrea, Michael Copeland and Danny Kinahan) while Nationalists voted for the Bill together with the vast majority of non-aligned MLAs. However, of the non-aligned parties, specifically the Alliance party, one decided to vote against the bill (Trevor Lunn, Lagan Valley) while 3 abstained from voting altogether (Kieran McCarthy (Strangford), Chris Lyttle and Judith Cochrane (both East Belfast)). This is somewhat at odds with the the line taken by the Party’s ruling council where after a period of internal consultation with members it was decided that the Alliance would support the motion. David Ford, Alliance leader, went on to note that:

Alliance has always stood for a progressive and equal society. Alliance will oppose any form of discrimination, whether it is based on age, race, disability, gender or sexual orientation.

He goes on further:

Alliance is a democratic party, which is why we undertook a consultation process within our associations which lasted for several months. I would like to thank our Deputy Leader, Naomi Long who led this process and spent a considerable amount of time and energy in ensuring that we had the correct policy in place on this issue.

I have been stewing over the ramifications of not passing this bill for about a week now after my initial thoughts on the matter and one thing struck me about the fall out from the vote; while voting for and against the bill went largely as predicted, the fact that nearly half of the Alliance’s MLAs either refused to tow the party line or merely abstained from voting and have since gone all shy on their reasons for being absent, this must surely undermine Ford’s claim that ‘Alliance will oppose any form of discrimination, whether it is based on age, race, disability, gender or sexual orientation’?

So it begs the question, what moral standing does the Alliance party now have in wanting to push for an integrated and shared future if one of their members is openly hostile to a minority community here in the North (Trevor Lunn does have form on this issue, as is evidenced here where he and Seamus Close backed a DUP attempt to ban the use of Lisburn City Council premises for civil partnership ceremonies) while three others lack the courage of any conviction to vote for or against the Bill? Are we to make inferences from the silence?

In fairness, I am not saying that all in the Alliance have been tarred with the same brush (Naomi Long and Anna Lo don’t seem able to put a foot wrong at the moment and to be fair, they must be commended for being consistent on these matters), nor do I see this as a matter which will tear the Party asunder, however, it does take the sheen off the party when David Ford stands up and talks about a shared future for all, of bringing down physical and social barriers separating the 2 dominant communities here in the North. If one were incredibly cynical, one would need only point to the Alliance’s voting history with regard to the LGBT community here in the North and then watch as Ford becomes somewhat uncomfortable in giving an explanation (or so I would imagine).

Do members of the Party want a ‘separate but equal’ future for the LGBT community but are clearly unwilling to countenance this for members of the nationalist or unionist communities?

On a final note, the campaign itself must be commended for its professionalism both before and after the vote. First of all, it was well marshaled by those who supported the motion. Second, and as noted by Ian James Parsley, their have been little or no bitter recriminations following defeat. In fact, in relation to the 2 Alliance MLAs for East Belfast, it has led to an online petition where a number of their constituents are demanding that they answer for their collective no show, democracy in action and all that. It has been a motion that many were well aware of before it got to the floor, there was plenty of discussion and debate on its merits, including over at the excellent Fitzjames Horse’s site. The forces of progress are playing a long game which is the only game in town for an issue as totemic as this. I congratulated Stephen Agnew on bringing the issued to the floor and wished him luck in the future with the issue, he replied to me ‘I believe it will [pass] but clearly still work to do‘. Indeed.


5 responses to “The Alliance Party – ‘Leading Change for a Shared Future’ (except the LGBT Community?) and the consequences

  1. In six weeks time I will be 30 years married……..and of course it is far too soon to say if it is working out well. Gimmee another ten years and I might be more certain.I like being married. And I see no problem with all the rights and responsibilities associated with it being extended to the Gay Community.
    It has saddened, irritated and angered me that Mrs FJH does not get full respect as my wife. And if Gay Marriage ensures that there is respect given to Marriage as an institution then I am all for it.
    If I had been in the Assembly last week, I would have voted with the Ayes……thats all Sinn Féin, most SDLP and half of Alliance.
    It seems to me tactically a mistake for Alliance or Sinn Féin to insist on a Party response. And I think it might be a mistake for SDLP to go down that road next month.
    It is not nearly as serious a question as Abortion and I think Labour Party in Britain shot themselves in the foot in the 1970s when they alienated part of their natural constitueency in west of Scotland and South Lancashire by de-selecting anti-abortion MPs.
    Indeed a 1970s Drama series “Bill Brand” (written by Trevor Griffiths I think) tells the story.Brand” is a left winger in a south Lancashire seat with a big Catholic population.
    As I say Gay Rights does not really have the same divisive pitfalls.
    But where the Alliance Party screwed up is having a policy which they could not enforce. Lunn has form indeed but not likely to stand next time round so he could afford to vote against. Likewise McCarthy who abstained is 70 and not likely to stand next time.
    Which makes the abstention of Cochrane and Lyttle a bit strange. They are young. And yet I think they might well be mistaken if they think this was a good career move…..even in East Belfast.

    • Cochrane and Lyttle’s actions are somewhat strange. It has been suggested that they abstained as part of electoral calculations in the constituency, but that doesn’t really square with Long’s position on this matter and the fact that she has been very vocal and up front with this issue. If someone else has a different theory (conspiracy?) then I would like to know.

      I think all of the SDLP did vote, with the exception of Alban as he seems to be miscounted but I am willing to be corrected on this point.

      Like you said above, LGBT rights is no where near as divisive as any discussion on abortion may be in the Assembly but on this vote I was pleasantly surprised by the way the vote went. If it was 10 years ago I would imagine a lot more Noes than there was last week.

      What I will be more interested in seeing is if anyone will try and make hay out of the Alliance’s fumble?

      • Well its doubly interesting that Cochrane and Lyttle are young and “gene pool” Alliance. Parsley is not perhaps a traditional UUP person but he was “Yes”. But it would be interesting to know if UUP defectors Hamilton, Bradshaw would have voted Yes or No.
        Alban was miscounted as far as I know and I think all SDLP who were actually at Stormont voted Yes.

        I dont think Lyttle and Cochrane are very sensible if they are factoring in losing votes if they had voted Yes. Clearly both are looking over their shoulder (the second seat is vulnerable) and they are also probably keeping an eye on each other, in case one gets an advantage.
        But I dont think the folks in Belmont Bowling Club (who are supposed to have brought Naomi her seat) are going to be that worked up by it. Possibly any vote “No” vote would be offset by a “Yes” vote. Didnt Copeland vote Yes or Abstain? So he cant be that bothered.
        The thing is that most people in 2012 have gay friends and with just about every unionist and half of Alliance making a point to be unfriendly towards gays…that will lose as many votes as you win.
        The real losers here are people like Sammy Douglas…..alleged to be progressive and of course Nesbitt.
        Can we really believe unionists “outreach”?
        If they were really worried about votes then the sensible and cynical thing for Lyttle and Cochrane to do would have voted Yes AND No respectively.
        In the unlikely event of a hostile voter reaction next time they canvas, they could point to their running mate and still keep the Alliance vote.

      • Copeland voted for it and is on twitter supporting the Bill too:

        ‘Minorities are best protected by equality; the current position on equal marriage does not afford the benefits of equality’

        It just doesn’t make sense for Lyttle and Cochrane especially as Copeland and Long are for it. So, if it is for perceived electoral gain why would the latter two give it up, especially Long who can only expect the DUP to throw everything the can at this seat?

        It would suggest that they are doing this due to a crisis of conscience, which begs another question, are there any other matters they may have a crisis of conscience over that we should know about?

        As for Nesbitt, the man is a clown masquerading as a political leader. It is difficult to take much or any of what he says seriously or simply for what it is, hot air and media spin. I just don’t see what he has to gain from peeving off so many people who are becoming increasingly vocal and politically active, though the UUP do have form on this score.

  2. Pingback: Does the Northern Assembly need an ‘opposition’? | footballcliches·

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