Alliance Party Conference preview #allconf

It’s the Alliance Party Conference on Saturday. Their agenda has still not been announced as it is being franticly reshuffled after the late confirmation that Fine Gael’s leader Enda Kenny is able to attend.

This time last year, the likelihood that policing and justice would be devolved was much talked about at conference. Behind the scenes, Alliance’s Executive had already discussed how they might approach the new ministry and the potential for David Ford to grab the post.

Alliance’s leader was prescient (and not believed) when in his speech he said

I believe that Naomi’s political career is not going to end on the opposition benches at Stormont and that there are significant opportunities ahead. I know that both DUP and UUP members are frightened of her in the context of the coming elections and they have every reason to be.

He went on to talk about her East Belfast constituency:

East Belfast is now wide open: it is now a classic two horse race between a faltering DUP and a resurgent Alliance. Look at the Assembly election. Naomi was just behind the DUP leader, with the UUP leader a distant third and nationalists trailing further behind. This could well be our best opportunity since Oliver Napier came within 1,000 votes of beating Peter Robinson in 1979 and I know we have an excellent team capable of pulling it off this time.

He added:

This year, there is a real chance of change, at least in East Belfast, but maybe elsewhere too. Just imagine the effect that the election of an Alliance MP or two would have.

Alliance’s dream came true. But will it have a happy ending? The time for imagination is over and this May the voters get a chance to mark Alliance’s report card.

Twelve months after last January’s conference, David Ford has managed to negotiate the twists and turns of justice devolution and has taken a seat around the NI Executive table. Naomi Long pulled off a coup in May’s Westminster election, beating the DUP leader in the East Belfast poll.

However, since May 2010, what has Alliance achieved?

By nature of handing over her Assembly seat to Chris Lyttle, bowing out of Belfast City Hall politics and handing that position to Laura McNamee, and spending time in Westminster, the party’s deputy leader Naomi Long has receded from the media spotlight and become a more distant figure. And if anything, Peter Robinson’s annus horribilus has given him the chance to reinvent his persona and come back stronger … and the partial saviour of Glentoran football club (bit of a local vote winner).

While all elections are turning points, May 2011 is a crucial fulcrum for Alliance.

Can they recreate the hype and feel-good momentum of Naomi’s victory along with the respectability of being at the heart of the Executive (the early release of prisoners hasn’t yet become a lasting embarrassment for Ford) and turn it into an increase in the share of the vote and an increase in the number of local councillors.

While the high-profile defections of Bradshaw and Hamilton keep Alliance in the news, will it buy them any votes? Alliance are relatively unlikely to get more MLAs elected, but if the party doesn’t hold the existing block in the Assembly and increase the number of council seats then it will be seen to have been squeezed and Naomi’s election as MP will be deemed a one-off.

In some ways, Alliance seems terribly settled with little visible squabbling or infighting. Going into the Executive didn’t cause problems for party supporters. Issues around post primary selection still rumble on, but Alliance know where they stand. Double jobbing remains ok for the party (in terms of non-ministerial MLAs and councillors) so that doesn’t need to be resolved.

But it’s gone quite quiet. The political narrative at the Assembly isn’t written in yellow letters at the moment.

At this year’s conference, I’m expecting to hear ideas about the economy: billions wasted on supporting duplicate services for a segregated society, Green New Deal, calls for local government reform to be resurrected and rubbishing Irish budgets – how else Enda Kenny will be integrated into the day is anyone’s guess!

Though a cynic might suggest that having Fine Gael in the building will increase media attention (even at the level of reporters saying “we spoke to the FG leader who was attending the Alliance party conference”) and appeal to voters who normally vote nationalist and don’t often hear Alliance talking about the one big issue the party remains neutral on.

I’m also expecting to find that mobile coverage at the Dunadry Hotel hasn’t improved, and that the conference room will be uncomfortably warm and cramped during Naomi Long’s speech at 11.30am and David Ford’s speech at noon.

Oh, and if you’re attending the conference and don’t arrive on time, my recollection from last year is that you’ll have to abandon your car on a roadside verge outside the hotel.

Update 2.40pm – the agenda has now been published

10.00am Welcome from Party President

10.15am Introductions to 2011 Election Candidates including five-minute mini-policy speeches from some of the 2011 election candidates

10.30am Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny’s key note speech

10.45am More introductions to some 2011 Election Candidates

11.45am Deputy Leader’s Speech

12.00pm Party Leader’s Speech

12.30pm Lunch

1.30pm Law Centre (NI): Access to Justice after Devolution where Les Allamby, Director of Law Centre (NI), will give an overview of what the centre sees as the key access to justice issues today (eg, the fundamental legal aid review, tribunal reform and Alternative Dispute Resolution). Chaired by Stephen Farry MLA

1.30pm Irish Peace Centres fringe event. Panel participants include Breidge Gadd, Noreen Campbell, Anna Lo, Naomi Long and Chris Lyttle. Chaired by Peter Sheridan (CEO Irish Peace Centres and Cooperation Ireland)

2.45pm (Sponsored by the Federation of Small Business) “Managing our Finances and Growing the Economy in the Age of Cuts” is a panel-led audience discussion with Siobhan McAleer (founder of the Mortgage Shop); Angela McGowan (Chief Economist – Northern Bank); John Woods (Former Director Friends of the Earth); & Seamus McAleavey (Chief Executive – Nicva). Chaired by Stephen Farry

3.45pm Award of Prizes

4.00pm Motion 1: Transport. Conference expresses alarm at the poor state of the transport infrastructure in NI and the imbalance in funding between roads and public transport. Conference therefore:

  • supports the re-direction of funding towards public transport as the most viable solution to deal with congestion in our towns and cities, to help reduce our carbon footprint and to minimise our dependency on imported fossil fuels;
  • believes that access to affordable transport should be available to all our communities, including those located in rural areas.

4.20pm Motion 2: Shared Future
Conference recognises the critical importance of a shared future towards achieving economic prosperity and addressing social deprivation. Conference further recognises that managing a divided society has a detrimental impact on our public sector finances and limits our ability to invest in the measures that create growth and stability within our economy. Conference therefore:

  • demands that the Executive puts in place a robust strategy to promote a shared society;
  • calls for a substantial re-draft of the Draft Programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration to reflect a true commitment to the development of a shared society across Government.

4.45pm Conference Close

,

  • Comrade Stalin

    Alliance are relatively unlikely to get more MLAs elected,

    Those kind of predictions could get you in trouble 😉

  • Carsons Cat

    Ohhhhh, strange that Alliance aren’t inviting any member of their “sister party” the Lib Dems to the conference this year……

    Happy to be Nick’s mates in 2010, but not 2011…..

  • YelloSmurf

    I think that those last two paragraphs are entirely right, it’s cramped and you can’t get a mobile signal or a parking space. Despite that, I’m really looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to hearing what David and Noami have to say, meeting some candidates and fellow party members. Contrary to what you say Alan, I think that there is every chance that Alliance will pick up at least one new MLA. That is even if it all goes entirely pear-shaped and we narrowly miss out on other gains. In my opinion, we are looking at a number of new Alliance MLAs.

    Oh, and I need to pick up some free pens.

  • I’m always happy to be proved wrong. After all, David Ford’s optimism last year was mostly rubbished until the East Belfast count. Do say hello if you spot me lurking tomorrow.

  • Sean Og

    Where would Alliance target additional Assembly seats?

    A second seat in East Belfast perhaps? Based on Long’s vote last year that is a possibility but without Long on the ticket they may struggle to get the unimpressive Lyttle elected.

    A second seat seat in North Down is a strong possibility with Wilson (former Alliance cllr) standing down.

    East Antrim – only one quota, I can’t see them getting near a second seat.

    East Derry – 1,900 votes in the General Election. Alliance need a great leap forward to get within a shout of a seat.

    In addition the Strangford seat must be at risk of being lost to the SDLP.

    Where do Alliance supporters see potential gains?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I am looking forward to it…. as long as the Alliance people on Slugger dont recognise me and give me a kicking (in a moderate way) .
    It should be a good conference for them . Cant deny them a good one….Naomi Long deserves the praise that will be heaped on her and with various ex “liberal unionists” being praised for joining the Party (I hope theres a surprise newcomer) and others sniffing around to see if their careers would be boosted by jumping ship.
    And of course David Ford as a Minister. Even a mass mistakenly released group of prisoners having lunch at the Dunadry is unlikely to dampen spirits.
    Prospects for 2011 are good. They have weeded out one or two mediocre candidates and chosen reasonably well. The near certainty of an extra seat in East Belfast and a reasonable prospect in North Down (even if the second seat does not go AP it will be within the unalligned group.

    They talk up North Belfast and East Derry…not realistic but if Hamilton is fast tracked (it makes sense unlike Ms Bradshaw) in Upper Bann it becomes winnable. I dont think there is much danger in Strangford. If SDLPs Joe Boyle gains a seat it may not necessarily be at AP expense.
    I think there might be a problem in East Antrim. They wont be complacent after the poor result in 2010.
    They should maybe utilise the working class roots of some young guns better. Ms Curran is I believe from Lenadoon or Poleglass so might be a good candidate (even if not a winning one) in her native West Belfast. She could at least do her profile some good and be a serious runner in South Belfast if and when Anna Lo steps down.

  • Sean Og

    “The near certainty of an extra seat in East Belfast”

    Reading a bit too much into the first past the post General Election result I think.

    Naomi Long won’t be standing, Purvis will be standing, Robinson will bounce back and Chris Lyttle is a low profile candidate who looks out of his depth at the Assembly (that takes some doing!!).

    Who are the APNI candidates? Will Miachael Long run along with Chris Lyttle – Lyttle & Long has a nice ring about it?

    I can’t see a second seat here for Alliance without Mrs Long standing. UUP have a better chance of a second seat IMO.

  • Ceist

    I agree with the general thrust of Alliance – we need to talk about real politics rather than the traditional divide. So in that spirit I have a few questions for them.

    Why is it that the relationship between the Attorney general and the Public Prosecution Service has not been codified?

    The CSI proposal has been scrapped as a shambolic regressive document and generally a waste of paper. As Ford had it as a precondition to his taking the ministry what action will we see an attempt from the Minister to actually move this area forward?

    Why is it that the postal communication that I (with my Irish name) got from Anna Lo in the Westminster election emphasised human rights and inquiries into the past, while my girlfriend with her (apparently) protestant sounding name, got one emphasising more powers for the police? This wouldn’t be profiling would it?

    Why doesn’t Naomi Long sit with the Lib Dem’s?

    Why do you have Fine Gael at your conference when your ROI
    sister party in the ALDE is Fianna Fail?

    At what point in Minister Fords opinion did the Saville Inquiry stop being “pointless” (as you described it to Nick Clegg) and become an “opportunity to put truth on the record”?

    In fact why should I bother voting for Alliance at all when they have a reserved seat in the Executive. Surely I’d be better throwing a vote to the other moderate parties? Does it really matter if the Alliance Party gain or lose a couple of seats? After all Ford will remain in place as Minister one way or the other. As he said on H&M last night “d’Hondt is not a principle… d’Hondt is a mathematical formula which appoints other people – we have a different system for Justice”. Can Alliance point to any credible series of events that would result in you doubling your seats to get a second Ministry under d’Hondt? Really? I suspect you can’t

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    “Ceist” actually raises a good point about about no “need” to vote Alliance when they have a guaranteed seat in the Executive.
    Naomi Long sitting across the aisle from the Lib Dems their alleged sister party is more difficult for them to explain. It would have been even more difficult to explain if Harry Hamilton had actually won Upper Bann and decided to sit with the Tories. Of course he would not be joining AP if he had actually been elected.
    And even harder to explain is “Lord” Alderdice sitting on the government benches in the Lords. Is he actually a member of the Alliance now?

    Yet we were assured on Slugger sometime ago that the AP decision that two members of Assembly re-designate themselves as “unionist” was (in retrospect) not a good idea and a mistake not to be repeated.
    Does Ms Long, Mr Hamilton (and Ms Bradshaw) and Lord Alderdice actually know this?
    And of course we might have expected something better from AP on CSI.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Sean Óg,
    I fully take your point that a second seat for AP in East Belfast is not certain. Which is why I used the qualification “near certainty” but I have not based it entirely on the First Past the Post result in May 2010.
    Some of the FPTP votes loaned by SDLP & SF will return home. Based on 2007, there is the best part of 2000 votes many of which will eventually boost the AP total. And we must remember that at least some of Trevor Ringlands vote was “liberal unionist”.
    The balance of probability based on the fact that the quota last time was just 4,500 (the exact figures are not immediately to hand) is that AP will take a second seat.
    I fully agree on Chris Lyttle. Ive oft pointed out here that his Assembly performances have been an embarrassment (not lest to the party colleagues sitting near him) but he will presumably be on the ticket.
    AP cheerleaders think he will improve with Time.
    Michael Long? I dont see why not.especially as hes based in the Castlereagh end of the constituency. But I dont like dynasties and theres been enough already in East Belfast/Castlereagh and while obviously not double jobbing might not look good to the voters. Id go with the young Cochrane lady (sorry cant recall her first name).
    But on balance Id say that there were two seats for AP. They will claim it as a breakthru but of course theyve had two seats before.

  • cynic49

    Thought that it was a bit rich of Mr Farry calling for the UUP to step away from the Executive if they can’t support the draft budget considering that Alliance have no democratic mandate to be sitting on the Executive whereas the UUP do. New boys on the block, who sneak through the back door, are better seen and not heard. Certainly should not be trying to exercise muscle. Leave that to the big boys unless of course that’s who Alliance have been instructed by to speak on this issue.

  • ORWELLSPEN

    What is the Alliance position on abortion? Also, surely a Kennedy-esque policy of forced integration a la Alabama is called for too. A policy of tough anti sectarianism is needed. Did u know Mexico and France insist education is wholly owned by the state. Liberals espouse choice but thats ok if society is not pockmarked by sectional division. Where divide exists, liberals need to act tough and lead and face bigotry, both tacit and overt, head on.
    In

  • Comrade Stalin

    Alan,

    I’m always happy to be proved wrong. After all, David Ford’s optimism last year was mostly rubbished until the East Belfast count.

    Yup. Election analysis and predictions are something that Alliancers are pretty good at (Sammy Morse; Nick Whyte, and David Ford himself is no slouch) and there are enough people in the party who know what they are talking about to not make stupid predictions that are completely unrealistic. Apart from anything else, going too far predicting your own success smacks of the kind of arrogance that puts electorates here off.

    It is funny, though, that David McNarry got almost no negative attention worth talking about when he claimed that the UCUNF would win six Westminster seats – a transparently ridiculous claim. Alliance talks of picking up a few assembly seats and there with a good head wind and everyone guffaws.

    I would say that if the campaigning is done well – as well as it was in EB – and the party puts in the work, there are two new seats there for the taking and it would be a disappointment if we did not add at least one. But the electorate must be persuaded of the case first.

    Do say hello if you spot me lurking tomorrow.

    Will do, but how will I recognize you ?

    Carson’s cat :

    Ohhhhh, strange that Alliance aren’t inviting any member of their “sister party” the Lib Dems to the conference this year……

    Happy to be Nick’s mates in 2010, but not 2011…..

    I am not sure that this is the case, but either way I wouldn’t read too much into it. Alliance are still very much friends with the Lib Dems. Alliance are not endorsing the coalition but that doesn’t mean there’s a breakdown. Mature people have a way of keeping close while dealing with disagreements.

    Ceist:

    I will try to answer.

    Why is it that the relationship between the Attorney general and the Public Prosecution Service has not been codified?

    Can’t answer that one. This is a technical matter and not the sort of thing that a political party would have a policy on. Alliance isn’t, as a party, involved in the technical details of the operation of the justice ministry.

    Personally I think the situation is broken and urgently needs fixed.

    The CSI proposal has been scrapped as a shambolic regressive document and generally a waste of paper. As Ford had it as a precondition to his taking the ministry what action will we see an attempt from the Minister to actually move this area forward?

    I think Alliance has been successful at least in terms of getting the other parties to start talking about shared future, which they hadn’t done seriously for 12-13 years. The DUP are even making some faltering steps towards addressing it. The SDLP were rebuking SF a few weeks ago for failing to be sufficiently supportive of it. I count that as a win, of sorts. Of course, the Executive as presently constituted is not inherently any more likely to resolve Shared Future than it is likely to resolve disputes over the construction of sports stadia (the failure to get Olympic attention is a crying shame), or academic selection – because our local politicians still haven’t figured out ways to agree on things yet. I don’t think that if DF threatened, for example, to resign. Alliance used what leverage it could.

    Why is it that the postal communication that I (with my Irish name) got from Anna Lo in the Westminster election emphasised human rights and inquiries into the past, while my girlfriend with her (apparently) protestant sounding name, got one emphasising more powers for the police? This wouldn’t be profiling would it?

    If that were the case it would be an outrageous travesty and would undermine the entire purpose of the party.

    Even if the party wanted to, it just doesn’t have the resources to go through the electoral roll and sort people into prod/taig categories, and then print off separate prod and taig leaflets and addresses.

    I would expect there is an innocent explanation for this.

    Why doesn’t Naomi Long sit with the Lib Dem’s?

    Why should she ?

    Why do you have Fine Gael at your conference when your ROI
    sister party in the ALDE is Fianna Fail?

    FF only relatively recently joined ALDE. Alliance has links with FG (and indeed the PDs, when they were around and slightly less nutty than in their latter years) that go back decades, and enjoys a warm relationship with them, something similar to the relationship we continue to enjoy with the Lib Dems.

    At what point in Minister Fords opinion did the Saville Inquiry stop being “pointless” (as you described it to Nick Clegg) and become an “opportunity to put truth on the record”?

    David misspoke in a private email, which was subsequently leaked for political reasons many months later by someone in the SDLP, and apologized for it – as was appropriate. I don’t see why it’s necessary to relive it.

    In fact why should I bother voting for Alliance at all when they have a reserved seat in the Executive.

    That’s the opposite of the truth. Alliance’s seat is the only one in the executive which is conditional on the consent of a cross-community majority in the assembly. It can be withdrawn at any time the Assembly see fit. The other parties, on the other hand, do have reserved seats in that only relatively significant changes in their share of the vote will lead to changes in the ministerial makeup.

    Surely I’d be better throwing a vote to the other moderate parties?

    What moderate parties ? Do you mean the one whose leader is an Orangeman, or the one whose leader argues that the primary policy priority is Irish reunification ?

    Does it really matter if the Alliance Party gain or lose a couple of seats?

    Alliance is the only party putting the shared future agenda at the very centre of its policy platform. If that is important to you, then yes.

    After all Ford will remain in place as Minister one way or the other.

    Even as an Alliance supporter I’d not call that a given. It’s not impossible to foresee a day when the DUP and SF manage to agree an alternative. Back in 1998, Alliance got the speakership because it was a given that unionists and nationalists would never be able to agree to a speaker. That changed in 2007. I would look at the day when we see either a DUP or an SF justice minister as one which would, in many ways, be a positive indication that we are learning to trust each other more. Of course, ministerial competency is a different matter, and by the time that comes around we will all be in a better position to judge Ford’s competency against the qualities of possible alternatives.

    Can Alliance point to any credible series of events that would result in you doubling your seats to get a second Ministry under d’Hondt? Really? I suspect you can’t

    There is a legal ambiguity here as it is not clear whether Alliance’s presence in the justice ministry would mean that it would count as already having a minister in place for the purposes of the d’Hondt allocation. My view is that it would not be reasonable for the party to have one seat inside d’Hondt and one seat outside, especially given that the outside seat is such an important one, and I suspect it would be passed over for the first round. It would widely be seen as a snout in the trough – and not entirely without justification.

  • Comrade Stalin

    What is the Alliance position on abortion?

    Alliance does not have a policy on abortion. Your local candidate or representative may or may not – so you will need to ask him or her personally.

    Also, surely a Kennedy-esque policy of forced integration a la Alabama is called for too.

    No, it isn’t. I see no evidence that it works. Racism is more pervasive in USA society than it seems, which is obvious if you visit there. I don’t accept that “positive discrimination” solves anything.

    A policy of tough anti sectarianism is needed.

    I definitely agree there.

    Did u know Mexico and France insist education is wholly owned by the state.

    Sounds like bollocks to me, you’re saying I’ll be arrested if I start a private school in France ? How does home schooling work ? Can’t believe that’s the case.

    Liberals espouse choice but thats ok if society is not pockmarked by sectional division. Where divide exists, liberals need to act tough and lead and face bigotry, both tacit and overt, head on.

    Well said.

  • ORWELLSPEN

    Thanks Mr Stalin ( i never thought Id ever have a reason to say that!!)
    regarding France, check it out. Seriously. Religious schools dont exist in France. Illegal. Sure we dont have religious post offices so why have religious schools? Is there a Christian or Muslim way of teaching algebra ?

  • ORWELLSPEN

    and if Alliance have no policy on abortion, ok, but surely a free vote or referendum can settle it

  • ORWELLSPEN

    NI needs a Tito. Period

  • Comrade Stalin

    Orwell, ah, that’s not what you said. You said they had no private schools. I know that they have no religious state schools but I don’t see what’s stopping any of the churches running their own schools privately-funded. I am a believer in separation of church and state and I don’t think we should have state funded religious schools.

    I don’t believe in referenda, and I don’t see that we need one given that all four of the big parties are against it which really means there is no public debate on the subject. Personally I don’t think I’d go for a full extension of the 1967 Act, I’d do something similar to the rest of Europe ie. up to the first trimester. It’s a very difficult subject though.

  • Kevin Barry

    I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say, as I would normally be in broad agreement with the party’s position on most matters. They seem to be fairly constructive with most things and look to seek common ground for progress.

    However, there are number of things that concern me a bit, namely the number of defections from the UU and how that will play with the complexion of the party and confirming for many that they are a unionist party with a small ‘u’.

    I always thought Alliance was agnostic on the matter of the Union, but I think it would be a stretch for Bradshaw et al to say that they were pro-Union a year ago, but now they’re not.

  • Comrade Stalin

    However, there are number of things that concern me a bit, namely the number of defections from the UU and how that will play with the complexion of the party

    Two out of many hundreds. It’s a bit early to be worried.

    and confirming for many that they are a unionist party with a small ‘u’.

    I’m finding that the kind of people who talk about that “small u” are the kind of people who will never be open to considering supporting Alliance.

  • Kevin Barry

    Thanks Comrade, however, I would at least give Alliance a second preference and after what I have seen over the past few months I am starting to think that they are becoming a bit unionist with a small ‘u’, so, I would like to hear their opinion on this rather than get something of a brush off.

  • ORWELLSPEN

    Comrade Stalin point taken but the spirit of the French system is that there is no state funding for religious schools.

    Regarding abortion, are you sure there isn’t a debate? I know the 5 main parties don’t debate this but within the heart of every woman who boards a ferry or a plane from Ireland north or south to go a clinic across the water, there is a silent scream on the matter.

    You have to realise that the Assembly is very very male. More secularists and more women and more minorities please.

    By the way, did Paula Bradshaw speak in public today?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Sorry about the brush off Kevin, but the “small u” thing has been thrown at the party ever since it got started and I’ve spent time countering it on Slugger pretty much continuously over the years. So the idea that it’s now “starting to become small u” is a bit hard for me to take seriously. Especially given that Alliance is probably less unionist now than it ever was; when I joined in the 90s retaining the union was still mentioned as the best idea for purely practical reasons in the policy handbook. I don’t think it says that now.

    I am not sure what answer to it you are looking for from me. It’s like asking me to give an opinion on whether or not Alliance is turning into a sausage factory in the Nene valley. The question starts from a false premise. Alliance aren’t unionist. We don’t have an ideological attachment to the union. Many of us believe Irish reunification would happen. Most of us believe that there are other, more important problems to be solved before then; so we really think debating it is a waste of time. Is that good enough ?

    Orwell, there damn well should be a debate on abortion and I feel quite strongly that forcing people to go abroad to have it done is a crime; a silent, hypocritical judgement being passed on the women who find themselves in that unfortunate position. Unfortunately, people are mostly voting for parties that are adamantly opposed to abortion. Our four main parties don’t have the courage to speak out on hot potato issues like this, and people here suffer for it.

    I was only at conference for a couple of hours but I did have the pleasure of a brief, but encouraging, chat with Paula and it was great to see her, and Harry, present on the day.