New MEP for Northern Ireland, Naomi Long talks to David Whelan concerning the nature of her expectation exceeding win within the European elections, the Alliance surge at native authorities degree and her outlook on the Stormont talks process.
For the experienced politician, the mandate given to Naomi Long by an 18.5 per cent share of voters in Northern Ireland is obvious: “stop Brexit”. Long, who has served as a councillor, MLA, MP and now MEP is among the many cohort of MEPs elected across the UK who remain not sure about their size of tenure in Brussels, which is dependant on the Brexit consequence, however just isn’t about to undertake a ‘wait and see approach’.
Recent from her inaugural visit to Brussels as an MEP, the Alliance Celebration leader nursed a hoarse voice in her East Belfast office, unwilling to not accommodate a busy schedule of interviews for that day, including a Finnish TV crew and EU-based information retailers.
Brexit was the one-item ticket on which the European elections in Northern Ireland have been contested and while Long recognises that her unprecedented success, ultimately taking the second seat regardless of solely being regarded as ‘in contention’ for the third seat, might be credited to the “consistent and practical” strategy by the social gathering, she believes that the final consequence was additionally a result of electoral momentum.
Having taken over the celebration leadership in 2016, Long navigated the get together by way of two snap elections each for the Meeting and Westminster. While the celebration failed to extend their seats in either parliament, there was an evident progress in their vote.
She credit the get together’s members and candidates in their work on the bottom to make sure to continually grow the vote, leading to Alliance now being represented in 10 of Northern Eire’s 11 local authorities.
Suggesting that this was vital to her own electoral success, she explains: “The local elections represented a breakthrough, particularly in the west of Northern Ireland. For the first time in a long time many people who voted for Alliance actually got Alliance and I think that encouraged people to change their vote in the European elections.”
Long also says that frustrations across the Stormont stalemate have been evident on the marketing campaign path, believing that the Alliance Celebration’s “clear message” on the necessity for politicians to compromise find solutions “to deliver both the rights that people deserve and the rights that they need”, was to their benefit.
In a comparable vain, the MEP outlines the celebration’s want to cease Brexit by means of a individuals’s vote, with no deal taken off the table, argued “clearly, consistently and pragmatically” found a base of help among the many Brexit “chaos”, which has beforehand seen Northern Ireland’s representation in Europe take “ideologically opposed positions”.
Long admits that her 106,000 first choice votes is a considerable shift for the celebration, who for a long time “fought EU elections out of principle and lost our deposits”, however believes that their consistency has been rewarded: “£5,000 to have your name on the ballot paper because you are pro-Europe is a good sign of our dedication,” she laughs.
Given the sizeable chunk of first choice votes, transfers didn’t play as very important a position in the MEP’s election success as was previously expected, nevertheless, she believes that people who did rely got here from a broad base of voters. Undoubtedly, unionists sad with the path of Brexit switched their vote to the Alliance, as shown by the Ulster Unionist Social gathering decline, nevertheless, Long means that an unprecedented flexibility in voters’ transfers this time round represents a willingness by voters to place their constitutional place on the shelf, in favour of finding a answer to day-to-day points.
Describing this as a constructive step, Long bemoans the existence of what she describes as “entitlement politics” in Northern Ireland, suggesting that id politics has facilitated lazy politics, where the most important groups are usually not beneath strain to draw votes.
“This disempowers the electorate, who, even when wanting change, feel compelled to vote for the same party even though they are not happy,” explains Long. “We’re seeing a switch away from voters hoping the party will change to voters changing their vote for the party.”
In all probability most vital for Long is that by means of an MEP seat, for the primary time ever, the Alliance Celebration, which has previously needed to be selective about where it stands candidates for an Meeting election, can declare to have a consultant for the totality of the region.
“That opportunity to represent people and to showcase what Alliance can deliver is really important for us as a party and for changing the dynamics of politics,” she provides.
Turning to the shape that that delivery will take, Long says that she is hoping to build on previous relationships, having labored with each of Northern Eire’s different MEPs in several levels of presidency, to seek out widespread ground and a coherent voice in representing and defending the region all through the Brexit process.
Quizzed on whether or not the level of work she and her social gathering have put into profitable the seat is perhaps in vain if a deal is agreed by the October deadline and the UK’s MEPs are withdrawn, she says: “I don’t consider that any work representing and highlighting the case of Northern Ireland is in useless, nevertheless long it lasts. Although, given the unique circumstances it’s important that I hit the ground operating and deliver as much as we will within the window of opportunity.
“This doesn’t necessarily mean only in Brussels. I have already had invites from across Europe, the UK and Ireland to discuss the various Brexit impacts on Northern Ireland and those opportunities are ones I intend to grasp with both hands. The better informed the UK electorate as a whole is, the more likely we are to achieve a people’s vote to deliver a result.”
Long provides: “I also think that by educating people around the acute nature of Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit, there is a greater likelihood of a softer Brexit if it goes ahead. At the moment the only voice from Northern Ireland in Westminster is the DUP voice and they have prioritised the removal of the backstop above not having a hard border. That’s not the perspective of the majority of people in Northern Ireland and we need to make it clear to parliament that this is not a constitutional debate but a practical one for people living and working here.”
Long’s initiation in Brussels has been guided by the Liberal Democrats chief within the European Parliament, Catherine Bearder MEP and her workplace. Having additionally gained electoral success by means of a marketing campaign to stop Brexit, the Lib Dems and Long will both be members of ALDE Celebration Group (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe), the third largest grouping and which holds the stability of power between left and proper in the Parliament, along with Fianna Fáil.
Fairly than be a part of with the UK liberal delegation, Long will as an alternative act as a person regional delegate, granting her a seat at the ALDE desk as a delegation leader. She accepts that this is a “technicality” in some ways but believes it is very important keep the neutrality of her place, permitting her to work with liberal events but in addition with different relevant events with comparable Brexit pursuits in the Republic of Eire and Nice Britain.
Long highlights the value of working alongside the Liberal Democrats in that their voters will probably be essential in swinging any future elections across Great Britain. In ALDE, she positive aspects vital clout in terms of the EU Parliament. Together with her two permanent and two substitute committee locations being negotiated by means of ALDE, that the group holds stability between Parliament’s left and right, stands her a good probability of achieving her preferences of a place on the Agriculture and Rural Improvement committee and the Surroundings, Public Health and Meals Safety committee. Her choice for substitute places are in the committee on Human Rights and the Setting, Public Well being and Food Safety committee.
As properly, ALDE have in depth present networks, offering Long a higher probability of being heard in plenary and have vital help employees, including for the likes of research. Apart from these, the MEP is negotiating with ALDE officials, by way of the Lib Dems, to attempt to secure a place on the advert hoc Brexit committee, with the UK get together seemingly open to facilitating a Northern Eire voice participating.
Quizzed on whether or not Brussels has considerably shifted her focus from the continued talks to revive devolution at Stormont, Long highlights both her personal involvement and fixed contact with the social gathering on a every day basis around developments at Stormont. Nevertheless, she additionally believes that her work around Brexit shall be just as influential on the way forward for Stormont as the talks process.
The truth is, Long believes that Brexit and the diametrically opposed positions taken by Sinn Féin and the DUP had placed enough pressure on the Government in 2016 that collapse was virtually inevitable. “Had it not been RHI, something else would have brought the Executive down,” she states. “I believe getting Brexit resolved is part of the key to unlocking the Stormont deadlock,” she stresses.
Long doesn’t consider that even in the event of both Brexit being resolved and Stormont being re-established that these in themselves will supply a panacea to Northern Eire’s problems however provides: “What it will offer is confidence to the electorate that the people they voted for are working to the mandate they were given. This is critical at a time when confidence in politics is at a low ebb.”
The Alliance Get together Leader just isn’t unaware of the challenging surroundings during which the current talks course of is happening, together with Brexit and the absence of a UK Prime Minister, admitting that she sees the “odds stacked against” a successful consequence, but stresses her celebration’s dedication to delivering on the “window of opportunity” now opened.
“This is about political will and I believe that while Brexit is a threat to the Assembly and to Northern Ireland, having that Assembly would offer the opportunity of a coherent voice.”
Highlighting that Northern Eire’s two main events have only ever grown additional aside since a jointly-penned letter by then First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to Theresa Might, outlining areas of major concern for Northern Ireland, Long believes that an Government might go some approach to influencing Westminster’s Brexit process.
“The talks have been constructive, probably more constructive than productive at this stage but they are intensifying. It’s looking more like an exchange of views, which is a positive sign. Whether we have the time to be able to get an agreement over the line is questionable but if people are serious about it, it can be done.”
Long believes that the negotiations and the way the negotiations are carried out will act as a test-bed for confidence in any future Government for the smaller parties. Discussing her well-voiced beliefs that smaller parties have been largely excluded from the previous Government by the actions of Sinn Féin and the DUP, she says: “For all five parties to properly interact in an Government there remains a confidence difficulty. The talks and inclusivity in negotiations will help with this. The other factor needed is a change or protocols. We want to see political challenges recognized early and mentioned inclusively at leadership degree, quite than the carving up of fast political fixes.
“I think this would create a much more stable context in which to do the regular business of government.”