20/05/2014 09:00 BST | Updated 20/07/2014 06:59 BST

Could Northern Ireland Be About to Have It's Obama Moment?

Time has a habit of fooling you. For instance I can recall Paul Gascoigne's Wembley goal with startling accuracy. I also remember the way the ball inexplicably moved before Gary McAllister's spot kick - Uri Geller later claimed it was his magical powers. Yet I failed to remember it all took place just a few hours after a massive IRA bomb blew the heart out of the city of Manchester. It was an event which kick-started the rebuilding of a city on the decline, and birthed my interest in Northern Ireland when the troubles came to my doorstep. Like many who lived in around Manchester, I was one of those who had the fortuitous timing not to be in Manchester at 11am on the 15th of June 1996.


Thursday night sees the debut episode of the new BBC drama From There to Here. Anything that reunites Phillip Glenister with Manchester has to be a good move, particularly when it's penned by the talented Peter Bowker. Having already seen the opener which is set on that fateful day in the summer of '96, I can you tell it is well worth the watch.

In one of those coincidences, so beloved by us writers, Thursday could also be a historic day for Northern Ireland. A place that is so burdened by the heavy and bloody weight of history, could well elect it's first black councillor. Jayne Olorunda represents the best thing about politics, the opportunity for change. And by change I also mean that eternal invigorator: hope.


One of the mysteries of Northern Ireland for me was how a people so warm and full of good humour could be at war with one another. The truth, I was told on more than one occasion by Catholics and Protestants alike, was that the majority of the people just wanted peace. They wanted to raise a family, they wanted a fair paying job, they wanted the things which everyone wants. It's formed a view in me that perhaps the sectarian troubles were as much economical and they were historical. That perhaps history, however proudly celebrated, was preventing progress.

Olorunda is different. Young, female, and black, she comes without the baggage of green or orange allegiance. A Catholic who runs on a Pro-Union, Non-Sectarian ticket. The daughter of a Northern Irish mother and a Nigerian father, she's no stranger to being the outsider, or indeed to the troubles. Her father Max Olorunda, an accountant, was killed when an incendiary device, planted by the Provisional IRA, detonated on a train he was travelling on in January 1980.

Max Olorunda was just 35 when he died, the same age his daughter is now. The aftermath of that horrific event and the struggle of growing up black in Belfast is heartbreaking told in her autobiography Legacy.


And yet Olorunda is not someone who dwells on the past. Perhaps when your past has been so tragic it's inevitable that your focus should turn to building a better future.

It would have been easier for Olorunda to leave Northern Ireland, escape her past, and to rebuild her life somewhere new. I know that's what I would have done. It's what many in her shoes would have done. However, it's clear from listening to her that she has a deep passion for Northern Ireland. It's her home, it's where she was born, and rather than running she wants to be a force for good in the community. She might not be the polished Westminster article, as her debut on a BBC politics show recently showed, but she was refreshingly honest in admitting she's not well versed in TV soundbite television. She is what politics seems to be such short supply of these days, a politician who really wants to make a change, not just talk about one.

It is the good people of Ormiston, East Belfast who will make the call. Some have said that perhaps they are not yet ready for change, I hope they are.