Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Northern Ireland has come a long way since 1974 - Anna Lo and Alliance haven't

Anna Lo speaking at the Alliance Party Conference
Anna Lo speaking at the Alliance Party Conference

In a recent interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Anna Lo described arriving in Belfast in 1974. In the interview, she remembered a Northern Ireland many would sooner forget.

Forty years on, it’s fair to say Northern Ireland has come a long way. I’d be the first to admit, we’ve much further to go. But I do think we can all agree, that today we live in a better place than four decades ago.

Forty years ago, politics was dominated by the constitutional question. Today, the question is largely settled. The most recent Life & Times Survey, shows just 16% of people would like Northern Ireland to become part of an All-Ireland Republic. And fewer than 3% of people think that is ‘very likely’ within the next twenty years. Other polls reveal strikingly similar results.

As a serving councillor, who lives and works in the real world and who is active across the community, the increasingly limited support for an All Ireland Republic does not surprise me.

The reality is that in less than a generation, many people have outgrown Irish nationalism. Indeed, within UKIP, we’re fortunate in having members who grew up within the nationalist community who today are committed unionists.

It’s a long time since anyone said to me, ‘Henry, I want a united Ireland’. I’ve also never met anyone who’d like to swap the NHS for an All-Ireland health service , where you first must pay 100 euros to see a GP.

And I’ve yet to meet anyone who relishes the prospect of paying 3% more VAT or signing up for the Republic of Ireland’s wretched household charge, bin charge and water charge.

Just as I know of no local business demanding we ditch Sterling in favour of the Euro, or anyone who’d sooner pay 70p/litre for heating oil, rather than 51p/litre or pay through the nose if you unfortunate enough to have to call the fire brigade.

Admittedly, Alliance today appears to be a predominantly nationalist party that believes unionists are colonials who live in an artificial state.

But I still remain surprised Anna Lo even flagged up the constitutional issue. It’s indicative of just how detached from reality she is. And it proves that while Northern Ireland has come a long way in the past 40 years, Anna Lo and the Alliance party have not.

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