WHY I BACK REMAIN: Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly OBE D.Phil. FCIPR is chair of NIStrongerIN

Tom Kelly OBE D.Phil. FCIPR is chair of NIStrongerIN

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Ahead of Thursday’s momentous vote, the News Letter asked four major Northern Ireland voices why they are supporting Brexit or staying in the European Union. We have two responses for Remain and two for Leave. Here Tom Kelly explains his view:

The events of Thursday have been a very sobering experience for all those involved in politics and their families.

Although I met Jo Cox only once before she became an MP, I knew of her reputation much more than I knew her personally.

In the short time she had been in Parliament, this mother of two young children established a reputation for her strong values, principles and caring politics. She left no-one in any doubt of the type of society she wanted to build in Britain.

You only need to read a few of the tributes to her from Westminster politicians, across the political spectrum, to get a feel for how much she was admired and respected.

In the wake of this terrible murder the whole nation has taken a collective pause for reflection.

People who involve themselves in politics or political campaigning invariably do so because they want to make a positive difference to their communities and the lives of the people who live there.

And no matter how strongly differences of opinion are felt we must all remember that they are just that, differences of opinion. Whilst there is often heat in political debate there must always be space for cooling.

I am passionate about the political campaign I am involved in, the Remain campaign. I truly believe that Northern Ireland is better off staying within the European Union, for the many reasons you have heard in recent weeks.

But with the focus so much on the economy, there is maybe one reason I neglected to give enough attention to –the type of society in which I want to live and the type of society I want for future generations. It is the same type of society that Jo Cox wanted Britain to be.

In her maiden speech in Parliament Jo made clear her huge pride in being elected to represent a constituency in which she was born and bred –but she also opened by acknowledging the diversity of her area, she said “what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.

I share that sense of togetherness not just as a part of the EU but also together here in Northern Ireland.

Differences in faith, politics, ethnicity, colour, class, sexuality and gender all play a part in enriching our society, it’s a prism of colour that brightens all of our lives.

Northern Ireland has seen its fair share of senseless murder over many decades. Jo Cox is the fifth post war Member of Parliament to have been murdered in office –the previous four were all related to the Troubles here.

We know better than most –and through bitter experience –that no matter how difficult or fractious a debate can be there must always be space for society to come back together.

Jo’s energy and enthusiasm in the Remain campaign will be missed greatly, but it bears no relation to how Jo will be missed by her many friends and family.

• Tom Kelly OBE, a businessman, is chair of the Stronger In Campaign for Northern Ireland

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