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Ex-Alliance MLA Anna Lo: Why I'd vote for a united Ireland

In a frank interview, Anna Lo blasts several high-profile politicians, brands DUP a 'racist' party and explains why she backs Irish unity

By Suzanne Breen

Published 24/10/2016

Anna Lo at home in Holywood
Anna Lo at home in Holywood
Anna attending anti-racism rally at Belfast City Hall in 2014
Anna after becoming the first person from an ethnic minority to be elected to Northern Ireland’s Assembly in 2007

Former high-profile Alliance MLA Anna Lo has said she would vote for a united Ireland in any future border poll.

The politician, who faced a unionist backlash when she first voiced such sentiments in 2014, is adamant that Irish unity remains the way forward, and now she has spelt out the reasons for her stance.

"If there was a referendum, I would vote for a united Ireland under the right conditions. Ireland is one island. I don't think we should have a border to divide an island," the Alliance president said.

"I would like to see Ireland united, and I think it is inevitable. I take a wider world view on the issue. I am against colonialism. I welcomed Hong Kong being returned to China in 1997. When both Germany and Vietnam were united, despite all the foreboding, the sky didn't fall down."

In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Ms Lo said that she doesn't support the monarchy, despite having received an MBE from the Queen.

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She was also highly critical of several well-known politicians, including Arlene Foster, Alex Attwood, and Peter Robinson - although she spoke fondly of Rev Ian Paisley.

The former South Belfast MLA described the DUP as "the most racist party in Northern Ireland". She said racism was more extensive and vicious than when she first arrived in Belfast in 1974.

Ms Lo was speaking ahead of the launch on Thursday of her autobiography, Anna Lo, The Place I Call Home: From Hong Kong to Belfast - My Story.

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Although photos of Ms Lo receiving her MBE from the Queen in 2000 decorate her study wall, the Alliance woman isn't a supporter of the Royal family.

"I am a socialist and a republican in the international sense," she said. "I don't believe in the monarchy or in inherited wealth, privilege and position. But when I met the Queen I was respectful because she is the head of State."

Ms Lo spoke fondly of former DUP leader Ian Paisley, but said she strongly disliked his successor, Peter Robinson.

"When I worked for the BBC World Service, I would bring Ian Paisley from reception to the recording studio. He would talk to me about his dieting success," she said. "I was surprised at how friendly he was to a young secretary of no importance. I respected him for that, although I disliked his politics. But I never warmed to Peter Robinson during my time at Stormont."

Ms Lo said she was "livid" when Mr Robinson defended Pastor James McConnell who had made controversial remarks about Islam, and when the then First Minister said he would trust Muslims to go to the shop for him. She accused the DUP of being "more racist than any other party in Northern Ireland".

She said: "Over the years, many of their councillors and MLAs have made negative comments about ethnic minorities. Plenty of times they haven't condemned racist incidents in their areas. Sectarianism and racism are two sides of the one coin. If people have always been sectarian, it's very easy for them to be racist."

Ms Lo said she believes Naomi Long will make an excellent Alliance leader. "She is a strong, intelligent woman who presents a new image of Alliance. She will attract more young people and women into the party.

"It is disappointing that we still hover around 5-6% in elections. I hope we can gain more ground and become a force for change," she said.

Ms Lo said while she was "very complementary" to DUP First Minister Arlene Foster at the start "I've been less impressed with her as time goes on".

She added: "Arlene seems to be getting very hardline and she's quite snappy with people who ask her legitimate questions in the chamber. It's disappointing that a female politician doesn't hold more compassionate views on abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. Arlene seems less a breath of fresh air in the DUP, and just more of the same."

Ms Lo was impressed with many Sinn Fein and SDLP politicians including Martin McGuinness, Caitriona Ruane, Claire Hanna and Nichola Mallon. However, she said that when chair of Stormont's Environment Committee, she found the minister, Alex Attwood, very difficult to deal with.

"He didn't take criticism well. He would phone me up to give off when I didn't support his decisions," she said. "I know Alex is intelligent and has ability, but he just goes on and on and on. I found him to be very aloof."

She found his successor, Mark H Durkan "respectful, with a great sense of humour and boyish charm". When asked what she made of former SDLP leader and South Belfast MP, Dr Alasdair McDonnell, Ms Lo replied: "Better not to say!"

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