Ulster feminist seeks European stage for reform: Mary Clark-Glass's campaign uses the cross-party strategy that won Mary Robinson the Irish presidency. David McKittrick reports

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The Independent Online
AN audacious attempt to emulate the campaign which made Mary Robinson president of Ireland is to be launched in Belfast today with the announcement that Northern Ireland's best-known feminist is to stand for Europe.

The campaign intends to bring together a mixture of political and non-political elements to challenge the dominant unionist and nationalist parties.

The candidate will be Mary Clark-Glass, who recently stood down after eight years as head of the Northern Ireland Equal Opportunities Commission. She is to be nominated by the non-sectarian Alliance Party to contest next year's European elections.

Alliance is a middle-of-the-road party that has traditionally been squeezed by the Unionist groupings on one side and nationalists on the other, generally taking less than 10 per cent of the vote. The question is, can Ms Clark-Glass create a momentum in the North similar to that which took Mrs Robinson to the presidency in the South?

The attempt will provide a real test for the often-voiced claim that many voters are dissatisfied with their political representatives and could be attracted by a different type of candidate.

Mrs Robinson's success will clearly provide a model. She reached beyond the traditional support for Labour, the party that nominated her, and built a coalition with support from a wide range of community groups, in particular women's organisations.

Many similar groups exist in Northern Ireland, most of them shying away from party political involvement. To stand any chance of success, Ms Clark-Glass will have to mobilise people and energies not normally associated with conventional politics.

Northern Ireland is notoriously resistant to political change, and the campaign faces many obstacles. Probably the most formidable is the constitutional issue, centring on the Alliance attitude to the border. It is the only party whose membership includes appreciable numbers of both Protestants and Catholics but its overall stance is seen as anti-nationalist.

Northern Ireland's three European MPs are elected under an anomalous arrangement that treats it as a single constituency, with candidates seeking votes from all parts of it. European campaigns tend to have presidential overtones, with the largest votes traditionally going to the Rev Ian Paisley, the Democratic Unionist leader, and John Hume, the leader of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party.

Ms Clark-Glass was born in Wales but has lived in Northern Ireland for more than 20 years. After graduating as a mature student, she became a law lecturer and first came to public attention as a broadcaster on legal and consumer matters. She has served on many public bodies.

Northern Ireland's leading female trade unionist, Inez McCormack, said yesterday that if Ms Clark-Glass could avoid being given any party label she 'will bring a breath of fresh air into a very stagnant political situation.'

(Photograph omitted)