Belfast Telegraph

Alderdice says Alliance no longer building bridges - and slams Presbyterian Church’s baptism ban

By Lindy McDowell

Alliance is less committed to building bridges between Northern Ireland's unionists and nationalists under Naomi Long's leadership, a former party leader has suggested.

Lord Alderdice has also launched an outspoken attack on the Presbyterian Church after it adopted a hardline stance on same-sex couples.

In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the former Stormont Speaker described the policy of not baptising the children of gay couples as "obnoxious" and compared the church's leadership to the Inquisition.

Lord Alderdice pointed to a shift in the Alliance Party that had happened under East Belfast MLA Naomi Long's leadership.

"In a way I think the community is now divided three ways," he said.

"When I was Alliance leader, and in David Ford's day, you had the unionist side, moderate and less moderate, and then you had the nationalists, moderate and less moderate, and then you had Alliance - there very consciously as a bridge and seeing their main role as trying to help each side listen to each other and understand each other and build a society that would work for all.

"I think now that's changed and that now what Alliance mainly represent is a third element in the community - they describe themselves as progressive. They're not actually as devoted to the proposition that they are there to bring the two sides together."

Lord Alderdice said that "there is a case to be made that the peace process is actually over and we should recognise that and get on with building society".

"That is part of the analysis that the peace process is the previous generation's and we're about something different. I think that probably is an analysis that Naomi (Long) makes," he said.

"It does mean, though, that there is not, in the same kind of way, a political component that feels itself there to try to draw things together. And that can have disadvantages in that, frankly, no one from outside can do it."

Lord Alderdice said he had "been unhappy for quite a while about how things were developing in the Presbyterian Church".

But when it adopted a new policy that means people in same-sex relationships cannot be full members or have children baptised, he said that was "a Rubicon for me". "Because of the decisions themselves - to me, denying baptism to a child because his parents are gay is just obnoxious," he said.

Asked if he believed there was a lack of leadership being shown, Lord Alderdice replied: "I think the problem is that there is leadership being shown, but the leadership being shown is the kind of leadership of the Inquisition.

"It's a leadership that is trying to close things down, it is trying to control things."

Lord Alderdice also said the Government was creating a problem with its resistance to becoming involved in Northern Ireland.

"I really don't think that the Prime Minister really understands the dynamic in Northern Ireland at all.

"She'd like it all to be fine and good, but she really doesn't understand it," he said.

He added that he had a particular concern that this could lead to the re-emergence of paramilitarism in Northern Ireland.

He said if you do not address the issue when older paramilitary leaders who "know the cost" of terrorism are in positions of influence, then "younger people come in who don't realise the consequences to the community - and frankly, don't care - and they then become leaders, you're setting yourself up for a whole new generation of paramilitary control".

Belfast Telegraph

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