The decision taken by the Alliance party leader Naomi Long to withdraw from the Northern Ireland Affairs committee is a disappointing one.
I believe all voices within Northern Ireland should be heard and political ideas and positions robustly, but respectfully, debated. It is a shame that Mrs Long has chosen to exclude herself from that process.
The justification for her self-imposed exclusion is, of course, the fact that I have been asked to attend as a representative of Unionist Voice Policy Studies, a grassroots unionist/loyalist think tank. This, accordingly to Mrs Long, is a matter of credibility.
I am unsure who gave the Alliance party the right to set the threshold for credibility when it comes to engagement within the political process. Surely everyone should be encouraged to engage positively within that democratic framework; it is the antithesis of the notion of ‘tolerance’ to effectively say “this individual isn’t good enough to share a platform with us”. But even that position, as absurd as it is, doesn’t completely do justice to just how much the Alliance party have lost the run of themselves.
They were not even scheduled to be on the same panel as me, they wouldn’t even have had to (in their mind) ‘lower’ themselves to sitting at the same table as me, thus their virtuous elitism would have been well preserved.
The Alliance party also have a representative on the Flags, Identity, Culture and Traditions committee. I was invited to give evidence before that committee as part of a loyalist delegation. Alliance raised no objection either before, during or after the evidence session. They had no “credibility” concerns at that point in time.
Mrs Long further sent a letter to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee chairman. It came across as angry and contained many deeply personal attacks on me as an individual. This seems to me to be greatly at odds with the all embracing and tolerant way in which the Alliance party seek to portray themselves.
I think it’s sad that Mrs Long, an accomplished politician, had to descend to the level of personal attacks and seeking to ridicule me, but that is a matter for the Alliance party. It is little wonder that some have began to refer to Alliance as the “nasty party” due to the increasingly angry and personal nature of their outbursts.
I do find it interesting that Alliance relentlessly hark back to the days of the flag protests, when loyalism felt disengaged and those frustrations found their way onto the streets. Now that loyalism has engaged positively with the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, and in the mainstream media, the Alliance party think this is equally unacceptable.
One of their Councillors, Emmett McDonagh-Browne, was very upset that I had been invited to a school last year. No such objections were raised about liberal unelected commentators visiting schools, or indeed convicted IRA members giving public talks.
The Alliance also raised objections to me appearing on the BBC. Apparently not all unelected commentators are equal, or so it would appear.
The reality is that the Alliance party are increasingly allowing their mask to slip, it seems that those who agree with them are to be promoted, and those whose views they find detestable are to be demonised, ridiculed and ostracised. The intolerance is startling.
I look forward to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and presenting the views of a section of the grassroots unionist/loyalist community that has felt ostracised and left behind by what is described as the peace process.
I would have very much welcomed the Alliance party similarly opening themselves up to robust challenge by MPs. They have chosen not to do so. That speaks volumes.
Jamie Bryson, Donaghadee