Northern Ireland

Alliance leader says DUP and SF are 'to be feared'

Image caption David Ford was addressing the Alliance Party conference

The Alliance leader has told his party conference that the DUP and Sinn Fein are to be "feared" by the electorate.

Speaking to delegates at the La Mon Hotel, David Ford was also critical of the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists.

He said the DUP leader, Peter Robinson, talked about a shared future when "not threatening to collapse the power-sharing objective over the badge on a cap that some prison officers wear".

Mr Ford also said the UUP and SDLP were "casting about for relevance".

He said their support was draining away and they were "no longer able to convey a sense of purpose to the electorate because they cannot agree what that purpose is".

"But if the SDLP and UUP are to be pitied, the DUP and Sinn Fein are to be feared," he told delegates.

'Malice'

He also questioned the motives behind plans to get rid of the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL), which have been supported by the DUP and Sinn Fein.

The ministry is currently held by Stephen Farry, and is one of two seats which the Alliance Party holds in the Stormont executive.

Mr Ford asked: "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?

Image caption Naomi Long said there was a "cosy" carve up at Stormont

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

He told delegates that Mr Farry could become "the first minister anywhere in these islands who is threatened with the sack because both he and his party are successful".

'Carve up'

East Belfast MP Naomi Long, who won the Westminster seat which Mr Robinson had held for 31 years, said the objective of dissolving DEL was "about robbing not the Alliance Party, but our voters, of the seat which they gave us, as of right, after the last elections".

"The current politics of carve up, however cosy that carve up may appear to be, is still at its core, predicated on the continuing existence and maintenance of two communities - separate but equal.

"That is not, and can never be, a substitute for our vision of a truly shared and united community," Ms Long said.

She echoed David Ford's congratulations for the party's performance in last May's local and general elections.

She said they had delivered a 50% increase in the number of local councillors, and a 50% rise in its share of the vote across Northern Ireland.

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