The Alliance Party conference on Saturday finishes the 2011/12 season of party conferences. [Sinn Fein’s Ard Fheis (which was postponed from last spring to the autumn) will take place at the end of May in Killarney.]
This year Alliance’s venue switches from the mobile not-spot of the Dunadry Hotel to the DUP-favourite mobile not-spot of La Mon Hotel.
Moving on from the party’s recent strapline of “Leading Change”, the 2012 conference theme is ‘Delivering Change” and the morning agenda includes sessions on:
- Shared Housing in a Shared Future (Judith Cochrane MLA)
- Delivering Education for Our Children (Trevor Lunn MLA)
- Delivering for the Whole Community (a panel of councillors chaired by Stewart Dickson MLA)
- Delivering Skills for our Workforce (Stephen Farry MLA, Minister for Employment and Learning)
- Delivering at Westminster (Naomi Long MP, deputy leader)
David Ford MLA, Minister of Justice will take to the stage at 12.10, and 45 minutes has been allotted for his party leader speech.
In his leader’s speech in January 2011 David Ford referred to the upcoming Assembly elections and predicted “I think there’s no prospect of us just remaining flat … I certainly believe we’re going to have a significant increase in the seven seats we hold … I certainly think we’re in for a good election”. In the end Alliance only went up from seven to eight seats in the Assembly.
Ford’s speech should provide clues about Alliance’s position on how the party will approach the loss of a minister when the DEL ministry is deleted from the NI Executive table, and may indicate whether David Ford sees himself continuing as Justice Minister.
Two fringe events will run over lunchtime. Include Youth are looking at the Youth Justice Review, while Alliance have organised a Social Media and You session. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of Irish Peace Centres running a fringe event this year. Their 2011 contribution along with its blue sky thinking and 3D word association with polystyrene balls will long remain in my memory!
The afternoon is filled with a series of panels.
- North-South, East-West – The Next Steps will be chaired by Chris Lyttle MLA (deputy chair of the OFMdFM committee) and will include Labour Shadow Secretary of State Vernon Coaker MP and Fine Gael Brian Hayes TD). At last year’s Alliance conference, Enda Kenny delivered a keynote speech. Soon after he left the Dunadry Hotel, news broke that Brian Cowen had resigned, forcing Enda Kenny’s car to do a U-turn and return to waiting media in the frosty car park. Brian Hayes will be hoping for less drama.
- Transforming Your Care will be chaired by Kiernan McCarthy MLA (and member of the Assembly Health committee) and will include John Compton, Anne Reilly (Age NI) and Breedagh Hughes (Royal College of Midwives).
- Delivering Protection for the Environment will be chaired by Anna Lo MLA (who chairs the Assembly Environment committee) and will include Prof Sue Christie (Environment Link) and James Orr (Friends of the Earth). Unlike the Green Party conference, Environment Minister Alex Attwood isn’t in attendance.
After the close of public business, Alliance’s Policy Forum will meet in private.
On the Friday evening, delegates and guests will meet for conference dinner and be addressed by party leader David Ford and the Irish Labour TD and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore (who is also Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade). On the eve of last year’s Alliance party conference, former UUP/UCUNF candidate Harry Hamilton defected to the Alliance. This year, after their Friday night dinner, the Freddie Mercury impersonator will take to the stage as Flash Harry and provide a couple of hours of entertainment.
Update – The #all12 hashtag was too simple, so online opinion is veering towards using #apni12 …