Recently elected to replace David Ford as the Alliance MLA for South Antrim, long-serving councillor on Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, John Blair, is the first openly gay MLA and has a background working within the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
Outline your career to date
I served as a councillor on Newtownabbey Borough Council, then the new Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council where I was Deputy Mayor in the first year of the new Council, 2015-2016. Prior to taking up my post in the Assembly I was a civil servant working in Inland Fisheries within the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
What inspired you to get into politics?
I first became involved at a young age, 17 in fact, when Northern Ireland was a very different and troubled place. I became involved because at the time I thought there needed to be a new way forward, both in politics and in society in general.
Who do you admire in politics or public life / political role models?
Of course, I am going to say Naomi Long and David Ford and I could mention other peers with whom I work closely though, expecting that I might be required to give an example outside of Alliance, I will immediately refer to Mary Robinson. I really admire the fact that she challenged the status quo, risked unpopularity many, many, times, yet ended up as President of her country.
What drew you to the Alliance party?
I was drawn to Alliance because of the party’s determination to seek fairness, integration and progress in a bitterly divided 1980s Northern Ireland. Whilst I am pleased that there is now a relative peace in this place, it is most frustrating that there has been relatively little progress on dealing with our past, meaningful integration of our people and overcoming the cost of division.
“I really admire the fact that she challenged the status quo, risked unpopularity many, many, times, yet ended up as President of her country.”
What are your key priorities for your constituency/what are the key issues facing your constituency?
I, of course, have the over-arching aspiration of real political progress in Northern Ireland which will benefit all constituencies including mine. In addition to that my main three local priorities are:
- Better connectivity within South Antrim through the investment in public transport required to achieve this;
- the positive promotion of integrated education and a real effort to provide this now where there is demand; and
- making programmes and work around what we call Community Relations about more than talking about our troubled past. Programmes in this field should include having people, especially our young people, doing some future shaping, setting out their vision and mapping a way ahead from which we might all learn some lessons.
What are your interests outside work?
I am telling the truth when I say that politics, with much evening and weekend commitment, doesn’t leave a lot of time for outside interests. The free time I get is usually spent with friends and family.