Continuing binary cross-community designation and voting system at Assembly slap in the face for others, says Armstrong

Continuing the binary cross-community designation and voting system at the Assembly is a slap in the face for the growing number of people who don’t identify as either unionist or nationalist, Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong has said.

The Strangford MLA was speaking ahead of an Alliance motion to the Assembly this Tuesday (October 19), which calls for a replacement of the current voting system, which is based on community designations and effectively ignores non-unionist or nationalists, in favour of a weighted majority system free from designations, and calling for an alternative arrangement to be put in place by the Assembly’s Executive Review Committee in advance of the next mandate.

“The desire for a united society where everyone is treated equally is growing across Northern Ireland but the Assembly continues to represent institutionalised division through its tribal and outdated designation system,” said Ms Armstrong.

“We have moved on considerably since the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Increasingly, there is a growing number of people who do not or do not want to be identified by community backgrounds such as Protestant or Catholic, or even unionist or nationalist. Society is becoming more mixed and accepting of each other as fellow citizens who live together in this shared space. But as things currently stand, those who do not designate as unionist or nationalist are effectively ignored in cross-community votes in the Assembly. The definition of cross-community as only unionist or nationalist is outdated and unjustifiable as it was in 1998.

“That attitude trickles out into wider society – the most recent census sought to pigeonhole people’s backgrounds based on the religion they were brought up in if they answered they have no current religion. That was incredibly frustrating for those of us who don’t identify with binary community backgrounds. It is still assumed if you are Protestant you must be a unionist and Catholics must be nationalists, this is not the case. It also means Government Departments plan services based on that census data, knowing it does not accurately reflect the diversity of our modern society.

“If we are serious about increasing participation in politics from those from other ethnic backgrounds and making local politics more diverse, we have to stop treating those who aren’t traditional unionist or nationalist as second class.

“Reform of the institutions is a vital part of that. Some have recently talked about taking them back to 1998. That will not work either, given how at the start of the lifetime of the Assembly, Others were forgotten about. That is no longer acceptable and to continue what we have now is a slap in the face for all of us who don’t mark ourselves into simple, narrow boxes.”