Alliance Party confirms re-designation of MLAs as unionists

The Alliance Party has confirmed that a number of its Assembly members will re-designate themselves as Unionists in a bid to …

The Alliance Party has confirmed that a number of its Assembly members will re-designate themselves as Unionists in a bid to save the Belfast Agreement. The move has received a broad welcome from the Taoiseach, the Northern Secretary and the pro-Agreement parties in Northern Ireland.

After a day of protracted negotiations party leader David Ford emerged at Stormont to confirm that the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP would propose the re-designation of Alliance members in a bid to elect first and deputy first ministers to the Assembly.

Mr Ford said: "I think if there is any message which should go out, it is that the Alliance Party is working to save the Agreement.

"Any suggestion that we are seeking to do it for the sake of an individual is completely wrong."

Speaking this evening, the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the people of Northern Ireland wanted their politicians to get on with the business for which they were elected - governing in the executive and legislating in the assembly.

Mr Ahern added: "That is clearly recognised by the parties who have worked so hard in recent weeks to overcome the impasse to the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement.

"I hope that from Monday next, the politicians of Northern Ireland will finally be able to carry out the wishes of the people and help build a better future for all of the people on these islands."

The Northern Secretary, Dr John Reid, also welcomed the move which came just hours before he would have had to make a judgment as to whether it was possible for the Assembly to elect new first and deputy first ministers.

He said that a review to investigate the electoral arrangements of the Assembly would be carried out as soon as possible.

Mr Ford would not tonight confirm how many of his assembly team would re-designate. He insisted the Alliance was re-designating to "protect the integrity of the agreement". But it remained a cross-community party.

"On Monday morning it will be possible for a number of individuals in the Alliance Party not the Alliance Party which will remain a cross-community centre party and will remain so whatever individuals may have to do at the moment - to be designated as unionists," the South Antrim MLA said.

"Individuals are prepared to accept the designation as unionist in the concept that that is the only way the institutions can be preserved."