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Stephen Farry opinion piece in the News Letter on Alliance Party being a party for everyone

February 6, 2013 4:45 PM

OFMDFM: Stephen Farry MLA (North Down)As the Ulster Unionist Party continues on its slow motion implosion, some people are asking the question whether Alliance can or should now move to fill their presumed void on the political spectrum and to become a home for disaffected moderate Ulster Unionists.

Alliance is a party that seeks to represent the entire community in Northern Ireland. We are a party for everyone. We recognise that every person in this society is an individual, with their own particular identity, sense of community with others, and set of priorities.

The party stands in sharp contrast to others in that we are not and do not to seek to organise on the basis of a particular view of the border or represent one particular identity.

This is not to say that Alliance does not engage with the constitutional status or matters of identity, but rather that our overarching and defining purpose is to create a shared future within this region, where every citizen can feel safe and respected. In turn, this shared future is key to unlocking the full economic potential of Northern Ireland and addressing some difficult social and financial challenges.

For people to argue that all parties in Northern Ireland must be tied to a particular identity or constitutional aspiration is rather short-sighted.

Alliance is therefore occupying what is perhaps the most critical space on the political spectrum as a home for people from a diverse range of backgrounds.

In past some people may have wrongly viewed Alliance as existing on the margins of political debate as separate battles took place within unionism and within nationalism. But today, Northern Ireland is becoming a much more diverse place. Increasing numbers of people have open, mixed and multiple identities. Notably, increased numbers are describing their national identity as 'Northern Irish'. We have more and more people who are in or who are the products of mixed marriages or relationships. We have a vibrant ethnic minority population.

What now unites many people is a desire for a prosperous economy, with good and plentiful jobs, a world class education system, a high quality health service, and safe communities. They are at home within the concept of a Northern Ireland as a region, and are happy to see positive relationships with the rest of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the European Union and the rest of the world.

So Alliance can be a home for unionists without being an overtly Unionist party. We can be a home for nationalists, without being an overtly Nationalist party. Instead, people are recognising that there are bigger issues at stake and greater opportunities on offer.

To argue that there is a need for a specific political entity for moderate unionists and a specific vehicle for moderate nationalists misses the fundamental point and indeed opportunity to consolidate a political movement that transcends sectional interests, rises above the politics of 'them' versus 'us' and seeks to represent everyone.

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