I have always had a strongly internationalist perspective.
When I was growing up I enjoyed travelling widely in Europe with my family. In my teens and early twenties, my participation
in various interdenominational and ecumenical church youth activities including chairing the Irish Council of Churches Youth
Committee) and being the Irish delegate at the Ecumenical Youth Council of Europe took me across Europe and as far afield
as India as a speaker and delegate to conferences. Not suprisingly then my political interest was never restricted
to Northern Ireland, or even the wider United Kingdom.
After my election to the Council of the European
Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR) in 1987 I was keen attender at the meetings in Brussels and elsewhere.
I undertook many speaking and organizational responsibilities, led international delegations and served as Treasurer
of ELDR from 1995 until the Brussels Congress in 1999, when I was elected a Vice-President and member of the Bureau. I
was re-elected at the following Congress in Ljubljana in 2001 but retired in 2003 to focus on my increasing
commitments in Liberal International.
While I am certainly a committed European my vision was a wider one, and I was determined to bring
that wider perspective to my Northern Ireland colleagues. As soon as I was elected Leader of the Alliance Party
of Northern Ireland in 1989 I started to build relationships with the wider international liberal family and at
the Luzern Congress of Liberal International in 1991 took Alliance into LI. The following year I was elected a
Vice-President of LI and in 1996 was appointed to the LI Bureau as Chairman of the Human Rights Committee. At
the Ottawa Congress in 2000 I was elected Deputy President and was re-elected at the following Congresses in Budapest
(2002) and Dakar (2003).
Still working as a part-time NHS consultant psychiatrist, I was Speaker
of the Northern Ireland Assembly, a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and member of the Liberal Democrat's
Federal Policy Committee as well as travelling extensively as Deputy President of Liberal International.
I decided to retire from my role as Vice-President of ELDR in 2003 and concentrate on standing for the Presidency
of Liberal International. I also announced at that time that I would not seek a new mandate as a Member
and the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I was elected President of Liberal International, the
world-wide network of more than 100 liberal political parties, at the LI Congress in Sofia in 2005, and re-elected at the
Marrakech Congress in 2006. I was re-elected again for a (maximum) third term at the Congress in my home city
of Belfast in May 2008 and handed on the Presidency to my friend and colleague, Hans van Baalen MEP at the Cairo
Congress in October 2009. I continue to serve on the Bureau of LI as the Immediate Past President.