In my second interview from the Alliance party conference, I was able to chat to the party leader, Justice Minister, David Ford. In the interview we chatted about the conference, his predictions for the future growth of the party and the On the Runs issue.
I asked him about the comments made by Anna Lo in the Irish News;
If any leading member of the party had said that I have a long term vision that Northern Ireland remains within the United Kingdom would it have been an issue? Yet, we are a party with a diverse background with a huge variety of ideas coming in from very different quarters and inevitably if you’re a party for everyone…you funnily enough attract that variety of different people.
I then probed him about the level of criticism that he and his party colleagues are faced with these days. But, instead of seeing this as a negative, Ford believes that the increase in criticism of his party is due to the fact that Alliance is now a real player in Northern Ireland politics.
So, now that the party is a player does he think that they could overtake the UUP at the next assembly election?
I know opinion polls sometimes in the past have exaggerated our support…I think that’s changing think the polls are much closer to reality and accuracy now and I think that is going to be born out in the election. I think there is a very strong chance that we will be one of the big four by the time of the assembly election.
We then moved on to some issues facing the Department of Justice, namely the On The Runs case, to which I asked him had his confidence in the Secretary of State been damaged?
Absolutely clear that the initial answers that came from the current government blaming it all on their predecessors were not accurate and I have had an apology which has been made public, not every politician apologises when things like that are said…
I concluded by asking him about peace walls and how he felt when he approved the creation of another peace wall in East Belfast
It wasn’t particularly pleasant. But, let’s remember what we put up was a sort of wire netting curtain that can be pulled across at times. That is a long way from being a permanent wall and I think the very fact that, that was done was an indicated of particular difficulties in that area.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs