Alliance styles itself the voice of reason, but is a leading force of intolerance on City Council
The furore over DUP councillor Graham Craig’s remark about Belfast City Hall chief executive Suzanne Wylie has shown once more what sanctimonious bullies self-styled progressives can be. Or, as a Christian friend put it, modern-day Pharisees.
Speaking during a debate about cycling after the PUP’s Dr John Kyle, Mr Craig said: “He whizzes past me the odd morning on his way into work as I’m walking down the Greenway.
“And I often have the slightly greater pleasure of the chief executive whizzing past me on her bicycle in the morning, which does quicken one’s step slightly.”
When I watched it and heard the ripple of laughter that followed, it reminded me of events I’ve attended in rural Co Tyrone, where councillor Craig was brought up.
It struck me as a well-meaning attempt at gallantry by an old-fashioned man who undoubtedly is not in the urban, politically-correct swim.
Had he been a colleague of mine, I’d have warned him privately afterwards that it’s dangerous to comment on personal appearance these days because some people are very quick to take offence, even if you’re trying to be nice.
Speaking after the meeting, Alliance councillor Michael Long described the remarks as “totally sexist and totally unacceptable”.
On Facebook he posted a video of colleague Nuala McAllister fronting a group of concerned party members and telling the world that Ms Wylie had been “subjected to the most horrific sexist comments”.
Ms McAllister did not lower herself to quote Mr Craig’s “vile comments”.
Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown then weighed in to declare himself “appalled” at the “sexist and dehumanising” comments and to lament that Ms Wylie had heard herself “described as a source of pleasure for some, without being able to fight back”.
In a city where there have been decades of murder and torture, I find this particular level of overreaction pretty offensive myself, but I recognise there’s a generation gap.
Many millennials — those who reached adulthood in this century — are obsessed with politically-correct attitudes and language.
Rather than tell her social media followers to get things in perspective, Alliance leader Naomi Long eggs them on.
On Facebook she described councillor Craig’s remarks as “sexist and frankly sleazy,” “creepy” and “beyond inappropriate”.
Mrs Long is committed to blocking anyone who uses the term ‘remoaners’ in Brexit debates on her page.
She’s all for “respectful” and “robust” debate, “but do not dismiss the valid and genuine concerns of others in such a high-handed manner”.
But she didn’t seem bothered that Mr Craig was called a “plonker”, a “moron” and a “dinosaur”, and the DUP a “horrible backwards party”.
Her dismissal of those who disagreed with her was a master class in condescension.
Bizarrely, her own interpretation of the offending words was: “I reckon if your boss had told you (you) had a nice a** in front of a crowd of other workers in a context where you could not reply, you might have felt embarrassed, awkward, humiliated or demeaned.”
Progressives can have very vivid imaginations.
I’ve looked at a photograph of Ms Wylie on her bike, with her cheerful smile and her blonde hair flowing from beneath her helmet, and thought that she might put a non-sexist spring in anyone’s step on a grey morning.
Ms Wylie didn’t complain, but councillor Craig apologised by email and in person to her immediately the storm broke.
He is registered blind, someone pointed out to Mrs Long, who commented: “You can be registered blind and still be capable of some sight and of sexism.”
Apparently, although he can’t see her on her bike, Ms Wylie sometimes stops and chats with councillor Craig, which is what he was clumsily alluding to.
The emerging informal coalition of intolerant younger members of Alliance, Sinn Fein, Greens, the SDLP and the PUP has little time for those who don’t tick the right boxes and use the right PC jargon.
Some of them like to close down debate.
This is being nicknamed the ‘Liberal Terror’.
Alliance and Sinn Fein are working together closely on Belfast City Council, and, given another three votes, will be in a majority.
It’s becoming a very cold house for Christians, conservatives and believers in free speech.