After a two-year gap, the Alliance Party conference returned exactly two months before the Assembly election. Deputy leader Stephen Farry must have been relieved that he didn’t have to step in to deliver the leader’s speech this year! There were plenty of party stalwarts in the Crowne Plaza seats, and plenty of fresh young activists who weren’t on the scene two years ago. Yet the mood was slightly muted, at least until the leader and her deputy spoke. That can’t …
Alliance delegates gathered again in the Stormont Hotel for their annual conference, marking the 50th anniversary of the party’s formation and celebrating a year of growing success at three successive elections (local, European and Westminster). The mood was upbeat, attendance was strong, yellow clothing was prevalent, and while there are no elections just around the corner to fire up the crowd, there was a sense of achievement and satisfaction at the party’s fortunes.
Three figures were notably absent including party leader Naomi Long who had been diagnosed with a severe respiratory infection and was on bed rest and fluids under doctor’s orders. Deputy leader Stephen Farry delivered the conference main speech which also held from PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne, former Secretary of State Julian Smith, and young councillors.
The DUP conference included multiple references to ‘next generation unionism’. The days of Union Flags being left on delegates’ seats to be waved with proud fervour during the leaders’ speech now seem to be over. Shouts of “for she’s a jolly good fellow” have also been banished, along with Willie McCrea’s singing from the front. The conference is now more sober in its organisation, as is the mood.
READ AND LISTEN BACK to the main speeches at today’s Alliance Party Conference on the second anniversary of the last NI Assembly election and exactly two months before the next local government poll. Naomi Long pulled no punches in her criticism of Secretary of State’s “appalling dereliction of duty” to restore the Stormont institutions.
Listen back to and read key speeches. The UUP’s annual conference was dominated by messaging aimed at differentiating the party from its larger competitor in the run up to the local government elections. If the UUP are to arrest their general decline, it must be with a strong performance in May’s council elections at the expense of the DUP. That is the only test that the UUP will be measured against.
Highlights from some of the northern speakers on Friday night at Sinn Féin’s ard fheis being held in the Belfast Waterfront. Northern leader Michelle O’Neill called for reconciliation to heal pain, build bridges and rid society of sectarianism and blamed the DUP/Tory pact for the lack of an Executive.
The SDLP gathered for the first time in over two years for their conference at Titanic Belfast. In what has been a political year of many highs of lows for the party it was a relatively low key affair for most of the morning. Delegates (those who turned up) debated a steady stream of motions on welfare reform, environment and policing. The only potentially controversial motion that was up for debate was one regarding the naming of parks after actors …
The religious zeal and fervour normally on show at the November DUP conference was missing from much of today’s proceedings. The banter, jeering and spontaneous bursting into song was muted, actively discouraged (or forbidden). The flags, normally already laid out on seats when the delegates arrive, were only distributed after lunch. It seem that with supposed power in Westminster comes responsibility.
In her speech to the party’s autumn conference held in Derry, Alliance leader Naomi Long this afternoon called for a way to be found through the current political impasse to “[demonstrate] through words and actions, mutual respect for both British and Irish Identity and our commitment to share this space together, in co-operation rather than conflict”.
Sustained anti-Irish Language Act rhetoric was an effective smokescreen that diverted attention from any focus on the UUP’s disappointing election results. Robin Swann confidently delivered his first speech to conference as party leader with a call a new unionism and the desire for radical moderates (though he was light on detail).
GREEN PARTY NI hired a larger room this year in the Clayton Hotel for their annual party conference. As well as hearing from Clare Bailey who was stepping down as deputy leader, party leader Steven Agnew spoke about his thankfulness for volunteer commitment and stable finances that had sustained the party through unexpected elections and a desire to see the professionalism of their ground campaign continue to grow. The morose political mood across society was less evident than I expected.
The TUV’s election results in May were disappointing, but the party took great cheer from the EU Referendum result (and the recent US Presidential election result). Taking credit for long-time lobbying for the creation of an Opposition, Jim Allister encouraged the two opposition parties to make it sustainable and help lobby for a permanent change to voluntary rather than mandatory coalition.