Alliance: Bryson invite tainted inquiry which is why we stayed away

Jamie Bryson at the NI Affairs Select Committee on February 21, 2018
Jamie Bryson at the NI Affairs Select Committee on February 21, 2018

Last week, Alliance’s Party Executive unanimously decided to decline the invitation to give oral evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee inquiry into alternatives to devolution in light of the invitation to Jamie Bryson to also attend.

Alliance is happy to engage with the full spectrum of views and opinions, including from loyalists, and always with those who we don’t agree.

Stephen Farry is an MLA for North Down and deputy leader of the Alliance Party. Picture by Pacemaker

Stephen Farry is an MLA for North Down and deputy leader of the Alliance Party. Picture by Pacemaker

We do so in a wide range of ways.

Like everyone else, Mr Bryson is entitled to his views.

The matter in hand is whether it is appropriate for a committee of the House of Commons to give him a platform.

Giving oral evidence is not a right but a privilege.

It is for committees to determine the select list of those to be invited from the wider range of organisations and individuals that produce written evidence.

Often significant bodies are not invited, and at different times in the past, Alliance has not always received invitations.

There are questions regarding who Mr Bryson actually represents.

There are other well-established individuals with stronger track records of setting out loyalist perspectives, including people with actual elected mandates.

In the past Mr Bryson has engaged in a wide range of provocative behaviour, has failed to unambiguously condemn paramilitary activity, and has shown contempt for rule of law and the police.

His past encounters with a committee in the assembly turned into complete farce, including accusations of coaching.

Within the NIAC, we ended up with the surreal sight of Mr Bryson giving evidence alongside representatives of the Building Change Trust, the NI Local Government Association, and the Centre for Cross-Border Studies.

That particular session was poorly attended, with a number of MPs obviously staying away due to the presence of Mr Bryson, and thereby detracting from the evidence provided from the other witnesses.

Some MPs, including the Shadow Secretary of State, have openly expressed their concerns.

Great care needs to be taken to ensure basic norms of the rule of law and no platforming of hate speech occur in the organs of our democracy.

For example, it is inconceivable representatives of Britain First would be asked to give evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in relation to a hypothetical inquiry on immigration.

It was telling the chair of the committee felt compelled at the start of the meeting to clarify Mr Bryson’s views on the rule of law and terrorism before proceeding.

It is disappointing the chair accepted the carefully worded response at face value and didn’t probe whether he renounced previous comments made, if he condemned all forms of paramilitary activity and, taking into account past statements, whether he regards the UVF as terrorists.

Alliance did not attend these hearings as we did not wish to provide legitimacy to what is now a tainted and compromised inquiry.

• Stephen Farry is an MLA for North Down and deputy leader of the Alliance Party

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