Alliance Party not damaged by flags decision, says Ford

Leader predicts party will continue to hold balance of power in Belfast

Alliance leader David Ford. The party came under fierce criticism from unionists when it used its votes on Belfast City Council to support a motion to reduce the number of days the union flag flies on Belfast City Hall. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Alliance leader David Ford. The party came under fierce criticism from unionists when it used its votes on Belfast City Council to support a motion to reduce the number of days the union flag flies on Belfast City Hall. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Tue, May 6, 2014, 19:31

There is no evidence of Alliance Party support being squeezed due to the British union flags controversy, party leader David Ford said today when launching his party’s European and local elections manifestos.

Alliance came under fierce criticism from unionists when in December 2012 it used its balance-of-power votes on Belfast City Council to support a motion whereby the union flag would fly on some 15 to 18 designated days over City Hall rather than all year round.

Alliance is standing 82 candidates in the election to the North’s 11 new “super councils” while its South Belfast Assembly member Anna Lo is running in the European election. In 2011, it took 7.4 per cent of the vote in the local elections while it won 5.5 per cent in the European poll in 2009 when Ian Parsley was its candidate.

There was also controversy when in March this year Ms Lo said she favoured a united Ireland while adding that it was “very artificial” for Ireland to be divided up and for “the corner of Ireland to be part of the United Kingdom”.

The party in East Belfast, where Naomi Long of Alliance is MP, bore the brunt of loyalist and unionist anger over the flags’ decision. Party offices in the constituency were attacked a number of times with two attacks only last week.

Despite this pressure, Mr Ford expressed confidence that the Alliance support would remain relatively strong and that after this election it would continue to hold the balance of power between unionists and Sinn Féin and the SDLP in Belfast. “I have no doubt that Belfast is a significantly better place because Alliance holds the balance of power ensuring that difficult decisions are considered on their merits,” he said. “There is no evidence that the Alliance vote is decreasing. All the indications that I pick up in the areas I have been in is that the Alliance vote is increasing.”

Ms Long said some people were talking about flags but “it is less of an issue on the doorsteps than I would have expected”.

Ms Long indicated that her “united Ireland” remarks were not causing her difficulty when canvassing. “My motivation to get into politics was never about the Border. I joined the Alliance Party to work for everyone, to create a shared society, a shared future for everyone in Northern Ireland,” she added.