Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Perfect storm battered party... but future's still looking bright

East Belfast MP Naomi Long
East Belfast MP Naomi Long

Projections that Alliance is set to increase its representation on Belfast City Council will surprise some. Many observers felt the party would do well to retain its six seats on the new, slightly larger, authority – the biggest council in the province.

Events over the last 18 months have arguably created a perfect storm which a party hoping to appeal across the tribal divide is going to find it difficult to weather.

It has been crisis after crisis in Northern Ireland.

The Union flag protests; collapse of the Maze peace and reconciliation centre; the Castlederg commemoration; collapse of the Haass talks on flags, parades and the past; stalemate over welfare reform, on-the-runs and so on.

Between them, the Stormont parties have arguably created conditions which do not favour any party preaching "moderation".

The LucidTalk analysis does, however, chime with Alliance's own feedback from the doorsteps.

Received wisdom has been that Naomi Long will struggle at the next General Election given DUP determination to win back the seat lost by leader Peter Robinson.

But opinion has been more divided on whether the same hurdle would face MLAs Judith Cochrane and Chris Lyttle, who have consolidated their bases or candidates in the south.

There are many factors at play. The continual barrage of criticism, not to mention physical force attacks, on offices could backfire – and galvanise Alliance support.

Although we have two separate election campaigns going on, one is bound to feed into the other. Alliance tends to under-perform in European elections, partly because it is stronger in the east.

And while Euro candidate Anna Lo insists she has had more positive than negative response to her Irish News comments supporting an eventual united Ireland, there is anecdotal evidence the party has taken a battering on the issue on the doorsteps and in the golf clubs.

That said, Alliance has a strong track record in local government. Yet as the LucidTalk prospects admit, quotas for the TUV, NI21 and the Greens could rob Alliance of their firmer foothold.

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