Alliance Party leader calls for radical shift in North's politics

The Alliance Party leader has called on the North's electorate who want a real shared future to start backing change.

David Ford said voters who want to transform society and build a united community should move on from their political allegiance and play a role in making it happen.

Addressing delegates at his party's conference in Belfast, he said the party had ambitious targets for the coming years to have more councillors and Assembly members who will deliver change.

"So today I appeal to people who vote for, who are members of and even those who are elected as representatives of these other parties: do you want to go on forever, locked into the same old politics?" Mr Ford said.

"Or do you want to see a step change, a radical shift in the politics of this place?

"To those in the UUP and SDLP: are these parties really going to recover? Are they really going to deliver the kind of future that our community needs? If you think they are, carry on. But if your ambition is change, if you want to see a genuinely shared future, will you ever be able to achieve it in those parties?

"Do you want your politics to be defined by a never-ending battle for unionist votes or nationalist votes? Or do you want your politics to be defined by the kind of society that we need to build?"

Mr Ford claimed the UUP and SDLP were mirror images of each other, casting about for relevance as their support drains away, no longer able to convey a sense of purpose to the electorate because they can't agree on what that purpose is.

"But if the SDLP and UUP are to be pitied, the DUP and Sinn Féin are to be feared," said Mr Ford.

"There is plenty of fine rhetoric but behind the rhetoric they have settled into a cosy carve-up. Look at their record."

Mr Ford said that while political leaders talk of a shared future, they must practice what they preach.

"When he's not threatening to collapse the power-sharing 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 for ever and a day, 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 Fein are talking about a shared future.

"But talk is cheap, just like a ticket for the odd sports event being played by the other side.

"Genuine leaders would turn up at Windsor Park before and not after God Save The Queen, or arrive in Armagh in time for Amhran na bhFiann before the Dr McKenna Cup match.

"Gestures may be a good start but gestures are empty if they don't lead to actions with more substance."

The Alliance Party was celebrating its success in last year's elections, with a 50% increase in its number of councillors and seven MLAs elected.

But the leader criticised DUP and Sinn Fein proposals to remove the Department of Employment and Learning - a ministerial post held by Alliance member Stephen Farry.

"There are two possible explanations," continued Mr Ford.

"Is it vandalism against an important economic Department at a time of economic difficulty, rather than the properly thought-out restructuring of departments that we need?

"Or is it malice against Alliance because the growing strength of our party is a threat to the big two, especially in East Belfast?

"Ministers lose their posts. That's politics. But it looks to me as if Stephen is going to establish a record: the first minister anywhere in these islands who is threatened with the sack because both he and his party are successful."

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