Alliance MLA Anna Lo, who polled over 44,000 first preference votes in the European election, has revealed she will not be standing for re-election to the Assembly in 2016 as she is fed up with “tribal politics” in the Province.
The Hong Kong-born Assembly member has said she does not feel safe living in Northern Ireland in the wake of a recent upsurge in racist hate crimes.
The South Belfast representative also heavily criticised First Minister Peter Robinson and other Democratic Unionists for voicing support for controversial anti-Islamic preacher Pastor James McConnell, who said he did not trust Muslims.
“That just made me so, so angry,” she said.
Ms Lo has been subjected to racist abuse, including expletive-laden online slurs, from loyalists angry at her party’s decision to support limiting the flying of the Union Flag at City Hall in Belfast.
Ms Lo, who lives alone, said she had previously discussed with her two grown-up sons in England the possibility of leaving Northern Ireland, where she has lived for 40 years, over concerns for her safety.
In the most recent worrying episode earlier this month, a group of loyalists shouted foul-mouthed racist abuse at her in a shopping centre car park in east Belfast.
“I do feel vulnerable, I do feel unsafe,” she said.
“But we need to address this, we need to sort this out – we have racist incidents (in Northern Ireland) now, two to three a day.”
The Assembly member insisted the loyalist abuse was not behind her decision to quit politics.
“I am not seeking re-election but it’s not because of the racist abuse,” she said.
“I have had racist abuse for some time. I can’t say I am used to it, but it’s not what makes me want to step down.
“I have decided that for some time already. I am just fed up with tribal politics, that’s all.”
She accused Stormont’s two main parties – the DUP and Sinn Fein – of failing to deliver on tackling racism and sectarianism.
“I am just frustrated by the lack of action, by the lack of support from politicians to address not only racism but sectarianism.
“I am disillusioned with politics in Northern Ireland; the Assembly is not really delivering for people,” she said.
Ms Lo said she wanted to stay in Northern Ireland, but added: “I will see how things go.
“I doubt if I would take that decision to go but that would be a very, very major decision for me after I have lived here for 40 years.
“I would want to stay but I have to think about my safety as well.”
Earlier, talking to the News Letter, Ms Lo said she feared the comments made by Peter Robinson about Islam “could escalate” what could happen to ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland.
She added that she is “ashamed of our politicians” and urged the First Minister “to come out to apologise to the many people who have made their lives here in Northern Ireland”.
Detailing racist incidents directed towards herself, Ms Lo said: “I get racist abuse on social media, I get threats, a bullet was sent with a picture of me to a Sunday newspaper last year.
“More recently outside a shopping centre in east Belfast a young woman hung out of the backseat window of a car and screamed racist abuse at me with such hatred.
“I just wonder why she did that when she doesn’t know me, never met me, I have done nothing wrong to her. I feel vulnerable like other ethnic minority people here.”
Ms Lo claimed that Pastor McConnell “is totally ignorant of Islam”.
“This man [Pastor McConnell] should be condemned by all political parties. It is not for politicians to line up to support him. That made me so angry, so what is next?”
Reflecting on how she feels the image of Ulster has been tarnished across the world, she said: “If a business wants to invest in a country, there are plenty of countries for them to invest in [apart from Northern Ireland].
“And would you choose a place which is known as being racist? Would your workers want to come and work here? This is not good news for Northern Ireland.”
She added the recent episode “is so unfair as the majority of people here are nice, are hospitable and are tolerant”.
“But we have a small minority of people here who are racist and intolerant,” she said.