Northern Ireland

Profile: Alliance Party's David Ford

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Media captionDavid Ford's political career

David Ford resigned as leader of the cross-community Alliance Party in October 2016 after holding the reins since 2001.

He was Alliance's seventh party leader since its formation in 1970.

He was also its longest serving leader. David Ford was also Northern Ireland's justice minister for six years from 2010.

October 2016 proved to be a month of departures for him.

He was also removed from his role as an elder in his local Presbyterian Church after he spoke out in support of gay marriage. Mr Ford said he was removed because the other elders refused to work with him.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland said "there had been a breakdown in relationships" and it had "become impossible for Mr Ford to satisfactorily discharge his duty as a ruling elder".

He had held that role with Second Donegore Presbyterian Church, Dunamuggy, for nearly 30 years.

Born in Kent in 1951, David Ford was the son of a Welsh man and a woman from Northern Ireland. He grew up in England, but spent summer holidays on his uncle's farm in Gortin, County Tyrone.

He moved to Northern Ireland permanently in 1969, studying economics at Queen's University in Belfast.

He joined Alliance while he was at university. He started his working life as a a social worker and he spent a year as a volunteer at the ecumenical centre, Corrymeela.

Mr Ford's entry into full-time politics was in 1990 when he became Alliance's general secretary. He was appointed party chief whip in 1998.

He has represented South Antrim as an MLA since 1998. He was also a member of Antrim Borough Council.

He took over as leader in 2001, after Sean Neeson stepped down in the face of poor election results.

'Pantomine horse'

When former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble lost his assembly majority that year, Mr Ford redesignated as a unionist with two colleagues for 22 minutes.

He paved the way for Mr Trimble to get re-elected as first minister of Northern Ireland.

At the time, Mr Ford said he would never again allow himself to be the "back-end of a pantomime horse".

The Alliance Party's share of the vote has increased in assembly, general, local and European elections since he became leader in 2001.

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Media captionDavid Ford became Northern Ireland justice minister in 2010, on the same day the Real IRA bombed MI5 headquarters in County Down.

David Ford took on the role of Northern Ireland justice minister in 2010 - the first local minister in that role in nearly 40 years.

Reflecting on that role, he said the key was proving it was possible to devolve justice.

"We were able to devolve it and indeed there was one DUP MLA who said 'David has made justice boring'," he said.

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Media captionIn May Mr Ford said his party would not take up the justice post again

"I think that is actually quite an achievement."

Reforms to prisons, to legal aid, support for transformation within youth justice were major issues which made changes to the way the justice system operates for the good of the people of Northern Ireland.

But in 2016, following May's assembly elections, Alliance said it would not take up the justice ministry after its party recommendations - which Mr Ford said "would have moved Northern Ireland forward and created a better society for all" - were "rejected by the DUP and Sinn Féin".

In recent years, David Ford was critical of the DUP-Sinn Fein administration at Stormont, particularly what he called a "lack of openness and transparency".

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Media captionMr Ford has had, at times, a testy relationship with the press

The law surrounding abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland have been the subject of much debate, particularly in the light of changes in the law in the Republic of Ireland.

In 2016, David Ford sought to change the law in Northern Ireland to legalise abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

However, MLAs voted against the proposed change. His party also voted to endorse gay marriage in 2012.

Looking back on his time as leader, Mr Ford said that attacks on party members during the loyalist flag protests was a low point in his time as leader.

Seeing how his Alliance colleagues stood together in the face of such violence was a high, he added.

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Media captionHowever, he has also had his lighter moments

Mr Ford's leadership saw the party win a Westminster seat in East Belfast and gain two ministerial seats in the last power-sharing executive.

However, Alliance lost their Westminster seat and their ministerial places in later elections.

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Image caption Mr Ford was the seventh leader of Alliance and its longest serving

After Naomi Long took on the leadership of Alliance, David Ford moved into the background but remained as an MLA pursuing his interests in justice and environmental matters.

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