Alliance chief critical of parties in Executive

 

ALLIANCE LEADER David Ford has questioned the commitment of the other four parties in the Northern Executive to a shared future and warned that he will oppose any Stormont strategy that is not anti-sectarian.

The Minister for Justice was speaking at the party’s 42nd annual conference in the La Mon Hotel in east Belfast on Saturday. He told delegates of his ambition to make Alliance the fourth rather than the fifth largest party in Northern Ireland.

On the Executive’s Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) strategy, Mr Ford said the test for Alliance support would be high.

“What is at stake is whether or not the Executive will deliver for our community on the biggest single challenge facing us – the creation of a genuinely shared future,” he said. “I consider the CSI strategy as one of the most important pieces of work that the Assembly will undertake . . . I will not sign off on any strategy that doesn’t result in more children being educated together, more people living in shared housing communities . . . and a robust process for dealing with the scourge of flags and emblems that blight and label so many areas of Northern Ireland.”

Mr Ford said he was suspicious about whether the other parties in the Executive – the DUP, Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP – were genuinely signed up to the CSI strategy.

“Of course, everyone’s talking the talk of a shared future these days. When he’s not threatening to collapse the powersharing objective over the badge on a cap that some prison officers wear, Peter Robinson is talking about a shared future,” said Mr Ford.

“When they’re not insisting that the sectarian designations of the Good Friday agreement must be preserved . . . the SDLP are talking about a shared future.”

“When he’s not wrapping himself in the union flag at the UUP agm, Mike Nesbitt is talking about a shared future. And when they’re not cutting all the funding of the Department of Education’s cross-community youth programmes, Sinn Féin are talking about a shared future.”

Mr Ford said that early in his justice ministry tenure he was asked by some civil servants to extend one of Belfast’s peace walls because of anti-social behaviour. But over “a few tense meetings, we worked out how we could support those working with young people . . . and invest in people, not barriers”.

Alliance, he added, remained opposed to “peace walls” because “there had to be a better way”.

About 300 delegates attended the conference compared to some 250 last year. Mr Ford said the party, with eight Assembly members, had ambitions to improve on what were strong performances in elections in 2010 and last year when it won its first House of Commons seat.

NI Executive: Department Cut Opposed

Senior Alliance figures attacked the plan by the DUP and Sinn Féin to reduce the number of departments in the Northern Executive from 11 to 10 and thus deprive Alliance of its second ministry, the Department of Employment and Learning, held by Stephen Farry.

Alliance leader David Ford told the party’s annual conference on Saturday that the DUP and Sinn Féin were to be feared because behind their “fine rhetoric” they had settled into a “cosy carve-up”.

Mr Ford was made Minister for Justice outside the normal d’Hondt system, which resulted in an 11th department. First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness plan to abolish Mr Farry’s department.