Sat, Mar 10, 2007 - Page 6 News List

HK woman elected in N Ireland

FIRST MINORITY REPRESENTATIVE Anna Lo became the first ethnic Chinese to win a seat in the British parliament as one of six members representing south Belfast

AFP , BELFAST

Anna Lo of the Alliance party celebrates at the Kings Hall in Belfast, after making history as the first person from an ethnic minority to be elected to Northern Ireland's assembly on Thursday.

PHOTO:AP

A Hong Kong-born woman is thought to be the first person of ethnic Chinese origin to be elected to a parliament in Britain after winning a seat in Northern Ireland's regional assembly yesterday.

Anna Lo, a 56-year-old social worker, said that her election would help give a voice to the 10,000 Cantonese speakers in the province who often found themselves on the margins of its complex political make-up.

Lo is the first person from any ethnic minority elected to the assembly in Belfast, which is dominated by traditional Protestant and Catholic parties.

According to the Guardian daily, she is the first from a Chinese background to win a seat in Britain's national parliament or the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Lo will be one of six members to represent south Belfast after Wednesday's poll, after securing the fourth-highest vote in the constituency.

Now the chief executive of the Chinese Welfare Association charity, Lo has lived in Belfast for 32 years, is a British citizen and has even acquired the distinctive Northern Irish accent.

She stood for the centrist, cross-community Alliance Party, which wants to put an end to the traditional practice of Protestant and Catholic communities voting along sectarian lines.

"I'm really delighted, particularly for the Chinese community," the mother of two said amid the buzz at The King's Hall in Belfast, where the result was announced.

"Many of them have been here for 30 or 40 years and this was the first time that they came out to vote and have someone to vote for," Lo said.

"Coming from outside here, from Hong Kong, it's so difficult to understand the local politics here," she said "For Chinese people to feel that they are naturally affiliated to one side or the other is even more difficult, let alone wanting to vote."

"Also the Chinese community had been an underdog in Northern Ireland: with `the Troubles,' nobody really cared about anything else," she added, referring to the three decades of sectarian conflict that cost more than 3,500 lives.

Lo has suffered racist abuse and has been advised by the police to carry a panic alarm with her when out meeting the public.

A recent University of Ulster survey concluded that racism and xenophobia were widespread in Northern Ireland.

However, Lo said she was determined and proud to stand for her community.

"They are delighted that there is someone they can identify with and vote for," she said.

"It gives them that sense of belonging. A lot of them do see themselves as second-class citizens, and to have now a member of their local parliament who can speak for them, they're delighted about it.," she said.

The 2001 census found that 243,000 of the total British population of 58.8 million were ethnic Chinese.

"For many Chinese people, they have been subjected to harassment sometimes. They maybe haven't got a high profile in the community and not a lot of standing. They are seen as working in the service industry and they get hassled by people," Lo said.

"For them to feel that they have someone in government will give them a lift in morale and also really recognize their contribution in Northern Ireland," she said.

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