Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Quitting politics, the married Alliance councillors attacked in their home by flag row yobs

Christine Bower with daughter Grace outside their home after the attack by loyalist thugs

A married Alliance Party couple have revealed they are leaving elected politics a year after their home was attacked by flag protesters.

Michael and Christine Bower will finish their council term officially in May, however they will stay on as councillors in North Down until March 2015 when the new North Down and Ards supercouncil takes over.

Mr Bower told that Belfast Telegraph that their two young children – Grace (two-and-a-half) and Kiera (18 months) – were the primary reason for the decision. But they said the terrifying attack on their home was also a contributing factor.

Their Bangor house was attacked in December 2012 as loyalists across Northern Ireland vented their fury at a decision of Belfast City Council to reduce the number of days which the Union flag is flown at City Hall. A number of Alliance representatives were targeted as they had suggested a compromise of flying the flag on statutory days which was voted through, instead of Sinn Fein's call to remove the flag completely.

East Belfast MP Naomi Long received death threats and a number of Alliance constituency offices were attacked. However, the attack on the home of the Bowers was the most shocking.

Little Grace, who was just 17 months old, had been playing in front of the window a short time before a missile smashed the glass.

Mrs Bower, who was pregnant at the time, had just taken Grace to bed around 11.15pm when she heard "two huge bangs" and her husband rushed in and told her to get down on the floor.

The young family huddled together in their bedroom as their house came under attack.

A paint-bomb smashed through their living room window, landing just feet away from the bedroom.

A second device also ricocheted off the window and bounced into a neighbour's garden.

Their was only attacked once, but the couple had to endure intimidation from loyalists for several months going into council meetings.

Now, 14 months later, Mr Bower (right) has confirmed that both he and his wife won't stand for re-election to North Down Council.

"When we got elected there were two of us, now there are four of us. We have our two girls and primarily it is to relieve the pressures on finding a balance between full-time work, kids and council, but what happened will always be at the back of our minds.

"We will continue on for the lifetime of this council so, hopefully the rest of the term will go quietly. The focus (of the flag protesters) has moved away from Alliance now, thank goodness."

He said he is looking forward to getting involved with voluntary work again and had joined the board of the North Down YMCA.

Mr Bower covered a colleague's maternity leave as special adviser to Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry but has since moved on to another job. Mrs Bower works for Mr Farry in his Bangor constituency office.

The couple – who met through the Alliance Party – say they will continue as active members and have not ruled out a return to elected politics in future.

BACKGROUND

Alliance representatives across Northern Ireland came under attack in December 2012 after Belfast City Council voted to restrict the number of days the Union flag flew from City Hall.

Loyalist anger was focused on the Alliance Party. East Belfast MP Naomi Long received death threats while East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson's office in Carrickfergus was burned down. The home of North Down councillors Michael and Christine Bowers was attacked with a paint-bomb and other missiles.

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