Ross Brown: Former DUP devotee who made switch from orange to Green and now has his sights set on Europe
The Green Party's European candidate will tell his party conference today that his first political love was the DUP, which he strongly supported when he first became interested in politics as a teenager in east Belfast.
"When I was younger I certainly identified with the DUP more than any other party," Ross Brown said last night.
In today's speech he will go into some detail about his journey from orange, in the Northern Ireland sense, to Green, in the environmental sense.
"I wanted a distinct identity. I wanted to belong. I wanted to feel like I was from a community. My way of dealing with this was to seek out everything British, Protestant, unionist, loyalist and Ulster-Scots and to adopt it as my own," he will say.
"I became a flag-waving unionist – a 'for Queen and country' cheerleader. I did my fifth year work experience with the DUP and even ran for a mock school general election as a DUP candidate and won!" His priorities started to change going through university, and especially when he went on a year's course in American business practice at St Anslem's college New Hampshire.
There, students dressed up in flat caps and Celtic jerseys to greet him and hung a tricolour on the wall, not realising Northern Ireland's identity differences.
"When I came home ... I was a far more open-minded and tolerant person and I was much more comfortable with my own identity," he will say. Now, he believes: "I am Northern Irish, Irish, British, European – I am all of them. I feel that everybody here is the same – a mixture – but often we need to go out of Northern Ireland to realise it."
He will add: "I have come to understand that the values of Green Party are the antithesis of nationalism – whether it be British or Irish – and exactly what Northern Ireland requires."
He wants politics to be based on economic and social issues rather than national loyalty.
The Green Party believes he has a strong academic background to tackle European issues if he gets elected.
Besides an economic degree from Queen's and the American business qualification, he worked for a year as an assistant economist at the Treasury in London on behalf of the European Economics Team. He also speaks Spanish.
The party points out that, though small in Northern Ireland, the Greens are an influential group in the European Parliament. They currently have 49 MEPs, said Steven Agnew MLA.
The European elections will be held on May 22, the same day as the local government elections. The Green Party of Northern Ireland is fielding Ross Brown, a research assistant for Steven Agnew, our only Green MLA. The Greens run for Europe on a common platform with other Green parties across the EU.
Nominations close on April 24 at 4pm.