Any colour you want as long as it’s a rainbow
The strange case of Ulster’s most intolerant sect, the Alliance party
I could have punched the air after reading a blog about Northern Ireland’s EU-loving Alliance Party by Rod Dreher, the influential US writer who advocated The Benedict Option for conservatives who feel under siege from modern liberalism and secularism.
Dreher critiqued a short promotional film by the party called ‘It’s Not Over’. It depicted a multicultural society, overwhelmingly young and gay, without families or older people, that was determined to resist Brexit. Dreher said it “was one of the most sinister things I’ve seen in a while”. Here, at last, was some scrutiny, from outside Ulster no less, of the party’s development into a woke cult.
In this small, recently troubled part of the world, the Alliance party carved out a niche as the party nice, middle-class people voted for if they wanted to distance themselves from British unionism or Irish nationalism. It didn’t take a position on the constitutional issue and saw its main role, in the words of former leader, Lord Alderdice, “as trying to help each side to listen to each other and understand each other.” The party had its faults and absurdities but, in a divided society, the goal of bringing people together was honourable enough.
Now, this anti-sectarian heritage helps Alliance avoid a spotlight on the nasty, identitarian turn that its politics have taken. Under its current leader, Naomi Long, the party has adopted an abrasive, hectoring tone, with its representatives backing every fashionable liberal cause from the ‘right’ to change gender at a whim to votes at sixteen.
Most especially, as Dreher noted, the Alliance party hates Brexit, seeing any assertion of nationhood as a threat to its long-standing belief that Northern Ireland is a ‘place apart’ that exists in political suspended animation between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Its aversion to the nation state was once rooted in a reluctance to broach the border question; now it is infused by modern ideas about a globalist, multicultural future.
The Alliance Party has become a fully signed-up combatant in the culture wars. John Alderdice, its mild mannered former leader, now believes it represents, or believes itself to be, “a third element in society – they describe themselves as progressive … they’re not as devoted to the proposition that they are there to bring the two sides together.” He’s careful and diplomatic with his criticisms, but the implication is that the party is now a deliberately divisive influence in Northern Ireland.
Regrettably, its embrace of woke politics has coincided with relative success in recent elections. Northern Ireland’s devolved government was restored in January after three years of disputes between the republican party, Sinn Féin, and its unionist rival, the DUP. This impasse resulted in a surge of support for non-designated parties, like Alliance.
At the same time, a cohort of middle-class unionists worried that Brexit could undermine their livelihoods, egged on by predictions of calamity from Ulster’s business representatives, who focussed relentlessly on avoiding infrastructure at the UK/Irish Republic land border, rather than protecting the vastly greater intra-UK trade with Great Britain. Some of these electors switched to Alliance because it was so rabidly opposed to the UK leaving the EU and consistently backed Brussels’ line on the ill-fated backstop.
At the general election in December, the party won only its second ever seat in parliament and it finished second in last year’s European parliamentary vote in Northern Ireland. Alliance is still small enough to fly under the radar with some of its more controversial views though. It attracts support for instance, from church-going Christians, even though its representatives express contempt shading into actual revulsion for their beliefs on matters like abortion and transsexual ideology.
The government at Westminster eventually legislated to introduce same-sex marriage and loosen Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws – predictably there was no fuss made by defenders of the Belfast Agreement’s devolveed ‘settlement’ – but these issues had become part of the stalemate that prevented power-sharing in the province. When members of the public urged politicians to get over their divisions and get back to work, one of Alliance’s rising stars, Sorcha Eastwood, tolerantly tweeted, “equal marriage, reproductive, and language… rights aren’t divisive. If you think they are, you’re part of the problem.”
Under its current leader, Naomi Long, the party has adopted an abrasive, hectoring tone
By this prescription, people who prioritised hospitals and schools over the idea that disputed social matters were ‘rights’, were regarded by Alliance as “part of the problem” within Northern Ireland. It was a neat snapshot of the party’s self-satisfied liberal condescension and its reliance on the con trick of defining perfectly contestable issues as ‘rights’.
Indeed there are few pillars of ‘wokeness’ that do not form part of Alliance’s new ideology. Its female politicians were particularly vocal after a high-profile court case that saw three professional rugby players acquitted of raping a young woman. The then Lord Mayor of Belfast, Nuala McCallister, signed a letter calling for boys to be given compulsory lessons about ‘toxic masculinity’ in primary school. While a member of the devolved assembly, Paula Bradshaw, released a statement chastising the Ireland rugby captain, Rory Best, for attending the trial, even though he was called as a character witness and was directed to be there by lawyers.
The episode echoed all the worst exploitation of the #MeToo movement, with elected politicians continuing to refer to the woman as a ‘victim’ after the men had been acquitted. They seemed less concerned about legal process, or whether the accused were actually guilty, than making a feminist political point about men allegedly abusing their ‘power’ over women.
Recently, Naomi Long became Northern Ireland’s justice minister, after she was co-opted straight back into the Stormont Assembly without an election, following her tenure as an MEP. She quickly announced that she intends to implement the Gillen Review, which recommended a radical and contentious set of reforms for sexual offences, including banning the public from trials, pre-recording cross-examinations, providing extra help for complainants and continuing to publish defendants’ names. Leading QC, Chris Daw, warned the report could “tilt the scales of justice in favour of conviction” while the author, Lionel Shriver, noted its use of the term “rape mythology” was a “red flag” that suggested the content lurched into “advocacy”.
Predictably, Alliance has also adopted wokeism’s most controversial tenet; that gender is a matter of personal, meaningfully malleable choice rather than a function of biological sex. Last year, the party endorsed a paper from the lobby group Transgender NI, demanding that healthcare providers in Northern Ireland ‘depathologise’ gender transition and drop a requirement that patients requesting these treatments should have ‘lived experience’ in their new gender identity.
Alliance is happy to ignore growing concerns among medical professionals that vulnerable young people are being encouraged to take powerful drugs and undergo surgery. It advocates reforms that will make it easier for patients in Northern Ireland to access life-changing treatments if they claim confusion about their gender. It’s an approach driven by the desire to conform with a modern view of virtuousness, rather than genuine concern or engagement with the issues.
And that is the point about this party. As Rod Dreher identified from its chilling video, Alliance is increasingly in thrall to woke activists, who not only see traditional institutions and values as outdated and embarrassing but as intolerable and inexcusable. The world they want to build – the world depicted in the film – is multicultural and androgynous – but despite its claims to inclusivity, don’t be foolish or wrong enough to be a family, or old, or a christian, or to think you live in a nation state.
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