Anna Lo seeks to recover lost ground over united Ireland comments

Alliane MLA says her motivation ‘isn’t a united Ireland, but a united Northern Ireland’

 Anna Lo MLA with party leader David Ford  at the Alliance Party conference in  Belfast. Photograph:  Aiden O’Reilly/Pacemaker

Anna Lo MLA with party leader David Ford at the Alliance Party conference in Belfast. Photograph: Aiden O’Reilly/Pacemaker

 


Alliance Assembly member Anna Lo used her party’s conference on Saturday to try to get her European election campaign back on track following the tumult caused by her comments that she favoured a united Ireland.

Her interview last week with the Irish News , in which she said she favoured a united Ireland while adding that it was “very artificial” for Ireland to be divided up and for “the corner of Ireland to be part of the United Kingdom”, caused great concern within the party leadership.

Not only are there anxieties that her comments would undermine her prospects in the European election but there was also concern that Alliancae candidates in the local elections would also suffer.

Party sources said that local election candidates, particularly those seeking the support of moderate unionists in rural areas, could have difficulty reasserting the party’s centrist, cross-community message on the doorsteps.

In the longer term there are leadership worries that her comments could undermine the chances of its only MP Naomi Long next year holding the East Belfast Westminster seat she won from First Minister Peter Robinson in 2010.

Party sources generally took the issue on the chin and hoped that voters would trust to its policies and record, although some of the “Tiochfaidh ar lá” cracks to which a number of them were subjected did not go down too well.

Leader David Ford rallied behind her with guest speaker Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore saying it was disheartening that some people felt she was not entitled to express her view.

Ms Lo in her own speech to conference on Saturday made a brave effort to retrieve lost ground. “When I decided to get involved in politics I didn’t join Sinn Féin or the SDLP, parties that define themselves as nationalist and for whom the Border question is their motivation. No, I joined the Alliance Party because my motivation isn’t a united Ireland, but a united Northern Ireland.

“I joined Alliance because my priority was a shared future; it still is and it always will be,” she added. “I make no apologies for highlighting that Alliance is a party which champions and cherishes diversity.

“What saddens me is that the focus on my comments reflects that there are those, with their orange and green lenses, who are incapable of seeing beyond sectarianism.”Her defence earned a standing ovation and would have provided a little comfort for Alliance strategists as the party faces into the May local and European elections.