WE HAVE LITERALLY COME THROUGH FIRE, FORD TELLS ALLIANCE PARTY CONFERENCE

Alliance leader David Ford says the last three months have been tough for his party

Alliance leader David Ford says the last three months have been tough for his party

ALLIANCE Party leader David Ford has said the last three months had a “tough time” for its party. 

Last December, a compromise motion by the party to fly the Union flag over Belfast City Hall on designated days was voted in by 29-21.

However, the decision sparked street riots, with the homes and offices of Alliance Party politicans targeted.

Two members, including east Belfast MP Naoimi Long, were forced to flee their homes over loyalist death threats.

Speaking to his party faithful on Saturday, leader David Ford told delegates: “We have come through fire. We have literally come through fire.

The Justice Minister claimed that unionists had whipped up tension in east Belfast over the flag issue in order to win votes

Mr Ford told his annual conference that his party stood by its flag policy.

Mr Ford expressed support for those those in the party who had suffered from intimidation including Naomi Long MP, Larne mayor Geraldine Mulvenna, and Christine and Michael Bower.

The Alliance Party annual conference is taking place at a hotel in Belfast.

In his speech, Mr Ford compared the difference between Belfast and other unionist councils which flew the union flag.

“In Belfast there was a deliberate, pre-meditated campaign to whip up tensions, to generate fears over loss of identity among those who perceive themselves as having little left to give; and to go after the Alliance Party and its elected representatives, especially Naomi Long who wasn’t even involved in the debate, in order to win votes.

“That’s the long and short of it. All of this has been about votes.”

Mr Ford said the campaign by the unionist parties was a “project to damage Alliance”.

“When unionist politicians say that those who raised the flag issue need to accept their responsibility for what followed, they are right.

“They need to recognise what happens to when you stir up tension in a divided society, when you encourage protest without knowing where it will lead and cannot bring yourself to call an end to illegality without any ambiguity,” he said.

At the last Westminster elections, Naomi Long deposed the sitting MP for east Belfast, Peter Robinson.

At the next Assembly elections and Mr Robinson fails to retain his east Belfast seat, he would no longer be First Minister.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers is expected to tell the conference that the protests had to stop and talks should begin.

Ms Villiers is to say the government will not be moved by riots and attacks on police.

She will tell the conference that there must not be a repeat of the violent scenes witnessed in Belfast last summer.

The party has been at the centre of the storm over the limiting of the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall.

Councillors’ homes and party offices have been attacked and deputy leader Naomi Long has faced a death threat.

 

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