Alliance Party Conference preview #apc13

The Alliance Party returns to La Mon Hotel on Saturday for its annual conference.

Back at the beginning of December, Alliance’s role in the Belfast City Hall flag decision – and the subsequent intimidation of elected representatives and damage to property – perversely looked like overall it might boost the party’s support.

However as the protests dragged on over Christmas and into January and February, Alliance are less and less associated with the story; instead unionist fora, unionist unity and actions/inaction of the PSNI are the focus.

Conference will be one of the first opportunities for the hundred or so new Alliance members to spend time listening to the party leadership and hanging out with other members.

Alliance’s Party Political Broadcast has noticeably abandoned their red-haired heroine mini-Naomi animations and instead features three Belfast MLAs in a professionally produced video.

Alliance For EveryoneThe conference is due to run until mid-afternoon. The morning agenda includes a panel of elected representatives speaking about different aspects of Alliance’s shared future strategy (branded under For Everyone): Chris Lyttle, Judith Cochrane (housing), Trevor Lunn (integrated education), Maire Hendron (flags/shared space).

Stewart Dickson will chair a session where members and councillors explain why they joined the party and talk about what they want to see in a shared future.

In the run-up to David Ford’s televised leader’s speech [BBC Two NI from noon to 1pm] Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes will bring fraternal greetings as well as speeches form Stephen Farry (15 minutes on employment and learning), Naomi Long (30 minutes).

If it follows the pattern of previous conferences, expect to hear David Ford correcting other party’s perceptions of Alliance, being strongly supportive of embattled party colleagues – Belfast councillors, East Belfast representatives, Stewart Dickson and others targeted in the flag protests – as well as the normal effusive words about Naomi. I’d expect to hear soundbites strongly criticising the DUP and UUP’s actions in Belfast, as well as his critique of the UUP’s difficulties and the new McCrea/McCallister pro-Union vehicle.

Watch out for how David Ford phrases his level of support for PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott, the PSNI tactics to manage the flag protests and the subsequent arrests and criminal justice response. He’ll also have the opportunity to talk about prisons (and the recent failed alternatives to strip searching trial).

Three fringe events over lunch look at social enterprise, human trafficking and employability.

A speech from a special visitor will ensure members don’t drift away after lunch. A guest panel talking about the economy will close the conference.

No sign of Mid Ulster candidate Eric Bullick on the agenda.

Will it be a confident conference? Or will it be dogged with doubts over how Alliance can gain momentum and be seen to own shared future thinking in a crowded political battleground.

Updatecoverage and reaction to the Alliance conference (and audio of the speeches) now posted.

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  • I heard that there was some internal discussion about changing the venue…so fair play for sticking to La Mon Hotel.

  • Last year they switched from the mobile not-spot Dunadry to the larger – but still mobile not-spot – La Mon hotel! Still on one level, but with lots more parking, a lot more exhibition space and an easier flow.

  • Besides La Mon is so hard to find, it’s nearly fleg-proof – though I’ll not hold my breath.

  • I think the arrests, the hunger strike andan Alliance conference in East Belfast/Castlereagh makes protests inevitable.
    Should be interesting.
    I also thought the Alliance runner for Europe might be announced. If not, there should be some hints.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    Someone should’ve told Chris Lyttle to unclench his jaw for that video.

  • What will be most interesting is to see if there is any reference whatsoever to the new McCrea party. Since it doesn’t yet have a name, they can hardly mention it by name, but do they make any oblique reference to “recent political developments in unionism,” etc. in their speeches? The biggest thing that Alliance could do would be to propose a plan for an official opposition at Stormont, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for this conference. They’ve been at least temporarily co-opted to the duopoly.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Normally I’d be at conference, even if only to hang out around the back with the culinary staff lighting farts, but I couldn’t make it today. The Ford speech looked great, though. I’ll catch up on it later.

    FJH – the party were trying to keep the location of the conference relatively quiet out of concerns relating to protests and I imagine the print media stuck to that plan. Although, TBH, it was pointed out to me on Thursday that a protest disrupting the conference would probably benefit the party.

    tmitch57, WRT the McCrea party there’s little to talk about yet. Why give him free publicity by talking about it ? You can’t not make reference to “political developments in unionism” but while someone with McCrea’s ego might believe it’s all about him, the big developments are really to do with the implosion of the UUP, Robinson losing grip on his party and unionism as a whole becoming increasingly disconnected from the electorate.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The biggest thing that Alliance could do would be to propose a plan for an official opposition at Stormont,

    How many times do we have to talk about this ? An official opposition isn’t going to happen until the day comes when the DUP and SF (in particular) collectively choose to commit suicide. No amount of agitation from the UUP, SF or SDLP can change that.

    And if by some miracle the DUP/SF fell from grace and were replaced by other parties, do you really think they’re going to rush in and reform the assembly to put themselves out of a job ?

  • Comrade Stalin – The venue has been known for a long time and while the BBC apparently deliberately did not mention the venue, I know of no specific instruction to keep is hushed up. There was a request not to pre-advertise the presence of the Secretary of State – that’s a common request for NIO or senior PSNI figures. Compared with the larger DUP conference in the same venue – also attended by the Secretary of State and various ministers with police protection – security was much more visible.

    In the end, no protest though – neither inside or outside the hotel – though it was a subject of much speculation.

  • Comrade Stalin


    Ah, I see. Some friends of mine were asked by people in the party not to mention the venue on twitter or FB. I guess someone was just being over the top.

  • IJP


    Of course, Alliance has proposed a plan for an official opposition at Stormont. It appeared in a policy proposal document entitled “Agenda for Democracy” and would work thus:

    It’s a pity the UUP and SDLP can’t endorse it. I agree that it wouldn’t bring it about, but it’d give the electorate a serious steer as to how they could.