The Alliance are often called the Liberal Democrats sister party here in Northern Ireland and it often comes as a shock to many both in Alliance and the Lib Dems in the rest of the UK that I am not and have not ever been a member. Earlier this year when the Alliance abstained on the issue in Belfast City Council I openly attacked the Alliance Party, the so-called liberal and self-tagged leading change party, for not living up to either of these monikers. I got slapped down in the public forum of Facebook by their MP Naomi Long for not allowing them time to come up with a party policy position.
Since 1 September there has been a party policy position, it actually reads incredibly close to the motion that was up for debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday, even with the measures to ensure legal protection for faith groups to make their own position on what they should do. While my own MLA voted in favour and I meet my own Alliance Councillor at the demonstration in support for the motion, the party was seen by many to have failed them.
The biggest failing being in the seat that Naomi represents and Stormont actually sits in East Belfast. It returned two Alliance MLAs in 2011 neither of whom, Chris Lyttle and Judith Cochrane, were present to vote on this issue leading change for LGBT equality. Kieran McCarthy from the neighbouring Strangford constituency was also missing. Trevor Lunn the Lagan Valley MLA voted against meaning.
According to Hansard Mrs Cochrane and Mr McCarthy were both in the chamber both before and after this vote, though Mr Lyttle may have been absent from the house on other business. Update Chris Lyttle on Saturday did release a statement saying that ill health and personal reasons kept him from the chamber for a number of key issues including this. While is personal opinion in the tradional one man one woman his elected role gives him pleasure to support the decision of party council.
There was overnight a lot of criticism on the Alliance Party's Facebook page. Today there is none!
It has all been removed, but it hasn't been answered. Those four votes could have brought the vote up to one vote, indeed knowing what was going on behind the scenes those in support of the motion thought it was that close with about half an hour to go and were looking for one or two more votes.
I'm a liberal but I don't think the actions of Alliance this morning are very liberal. It may be that someone at party HQ thought it would in some way help the party to hide all the criticism, it just makes people angry and more sceptical of their party's liberal credentials.
Last night I asked Naomi Long on Facebook:
A few months ago you told me off for saying the Alliance Party had failed on Equal Marriage in Belfast City Council vote. You said you needed time to form policy.
Well today one of your colleagues and three of your MLAs were missing in action (including both from your constituency). Can I now say that some of the Alliance Party have failed on this without having my head chopped off?
I too have yet to get a response, but I know some within her party agree with me about this. Update she has since responded saying that her position is that as overwhelmingly endorsed by party council.
Update here is Stephen Farry speaking about this on The Nolan Show this morning.
Update 2 It may well be that the Alliance Party had read this blog post as the wording seems to address this post directly. This afternoon on Facebook they wrote the following.
Earlier today the Alliance Party removed a number of posts containing grossly offensive and obscene language. However due to a miscommunication in the attempt to remove these posts, a number of others were mistakenly taken down and the Party would like to apologise for that oversight. The Alliance Party does not believe in censorship and welcomes constructive debate on our Facebook site.
However, the first comment sums it up, the first is from former Chief Executive of the party Gerry Lynch
I didn't see any offensive language. If there was, it was buried deep in one of two very lengthy comments threads. Is there a problem with admitting you screwed this one up, and can we have an explanation for yesterday's debacle?