Belfast Telegraph

Stormont's first openly Gay MLA John Blair 'happy to be breaking down barriers but has a job to do'

By Mark Bain

Northern Ireland's first openly gay Assembly member has said he is more than happy to be breaking down barriers.

John Blair has been selected as the new Alliance MLA for South Antrim.

He will replace David Ford, the former party leader, who is stepping down at the end of this week.

But while the 52-year-old Glengormley man's selection as the first openly gay MLA was big news yesterday, he hopes it won't be in years to come.

"It's very telling that, in the situation we're in, my selection to replace David Ford as MLA is a news story in this way," he said.

"This is the 21st century, but that's the society we've been living in. I could dwell on the negatives, the lack of progress of Northern Ireland as a fully inclusive society, but I won't.

"I'm taking this as a positive for our country.

"I'm happy to embrace this as a news story as when you look at the bigger picture. I suppose someone had to be first. In reality, I hadn't really thought of it in that way until today. In the Alliance Party I've never had to deal with any of this."

Mr Blair is a councillor on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, representing the Glengormley Urban ward, and previously served as deputy mayor of the borough.

He will resign the position before taking up the role as MLA early next week.

He added: "As a local councillor serving Glengormley I've just been getting on with the job I've had to do, helping people where I could and serving the community as best I can. Nothing else has been an issue.

"But now I've stepped onto a bigger stage suddenly I'm news, but I'm more than happy to deal with that. This will only be a new thing for Northern Ireland politics once and hopefully others can follow and that'll be that."

Mr Blair said that he has received hundreds of messages of support since the news broke, from across the political and social spectrum.

"I'm grateful for that, I'm happy to take the questions for now, but the important thing is that I will have a job to do as an MLA, not as a 'gay MLA'," he said. "If people think I've somehow broken down any perceived barrier than that's okay, I'm delighted to have done that.

"Ultimately, if it's a step to helping people in Northern Ireland to live with the same rights and entitlements as the rest of Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom, then it's a welcome move forward.

"But once this initial burst of interest has died down I just want to get on with doing the job of an MLA - and that means getting back into Stormont."

Mr Blair said he had sensed a real mood for change in Northern Ireland.

"Opinion polls are very clear on that and there has been a lot of debate and discussion in public which has been welcome," he added.

"Though we still have to respect the views of individuals on various matters, there is a real feeling that a swell of public opinion is growing towards a more liberal society.

"It has to be done the right way though and that's why getting Stormont back up and running is so vital. There are pressing issues that need addressed, and addressed ASAP."

Mr Blair, who was educated at Glengormley High School, said his selection to become the new MLA for South Antrim at a meeting on Tuesday night filled him with "honour and delight".

"Since deciding to run for the MLA seat I have received support and encouragement from right across the community, showing the progressive and positive alternative Alliance represents," he continued.

"I want to be carrying out all the duties of an MLA, so it is vital the Secretary of State calls all-party talks with an independent mediator immediately, so we can all get back to Stormont and do the job people want us to do.

Mr Ford announced he was stepping down after serving 20 years as an MLA on Monday.

Belfast Telegraph

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