My memory is increasingly unreliable, but I seem to remember voting for Dr Ramsey. Dr Ramsey was known locally as the patron saint of lost causes. Dr Ramsey believed in peace and reconciliation, he believed in tolerance and inclusivity. In the Northern Ireland of the 1980s, when liberal democratic values were a lost cause, Dr Ramsey was a stalwart of the Alliance Party in our area.
I remember one election for Craigavon Borough Council when we, and most of the people whom we knew, voted for the Alliance Party, in fact, I suspect we could have written the names of most of the Alliance voters in our ward because the total vote didn’t go much beyond most of the people we knew.
In the sixteen years I lived in Northern Ireland, I never once voted for a candidate that managed to get elected. Perhaps my vote was some sort of electoral albatross, perhaps I should have advised the candidate not to be preparing a victory speech because I would be voting for him (in Northern Ireland it was usually him). For all the difference my vote made in the four different constituencies and council areas where I lived in the North, I might as well have stayed at home and watched the telly.
For me, the Northern Ireland Assembly elections of 2007, had one bright shining light. When Naomi Long was elected on the first count in East Belfast, I shouted with delight – the Alliance vote there had doubled. As the results came in, it became clear that Alliance would win a total of perhaps seven seats, not much compared to the DUP on one side and Sinn Fein on the other, but, for the voice of reason and kindness, not a bad result.
In 2011, four years on from that tortoise-like step forward, the reconcilers took another step, gaining eight seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections in that year’s results. At such a rate of progress, the Alliance Party could have been in sight of a majority late in the 22nd Century, but seeking after power was never the object, seeking after peace was.
Two years ago, in 2017, and another Assembly election, the advocates of tolerance and inclusiveness recorded another success – 9.2% of a high turnout, the best result since 1982. Naomi Long topped the poll and was elected on the first count.
And yesterday, a new high point. The Alliance Party advanced in the local government elections, gaining twenty-one extra council seats to bring their total to fifty-three out of the 462 seats in Northern Ireland local authorities. Their share of the vote rose to 11.5% – one voter in nine.
Dr Ramsey has probably long moved on to higher things, but, if he is still around, he must feel a sense of satisfaction that all those years of speaking for peace are bearing fruit.