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David Ford: Union flag attacks made Alliance stronger

David Ford will tell his party conference today that Alliance has grown since it was attacked during the loyalist flag protests.

The party leader will accuse the Executive of "stagger and stagnation, of crisis and collapse" in recent months.

He will recall that the biggest protests of the past year have been against racism, not on the issue of flags. He will also praise his deputy Naomi Long, as "made of steel to match the shipyards of East Belfast" for withstanding the protests.

They followed a vote at Belfast City Council which adopted an Alliance motion to reduce the number of days the Union flags was displayed on City Hall. Mr Ford will tell delegates that the DUP's main aim is to unseat Ms Long in East Belfast, a seat she won from DUP leader Peter Robinson five years ago. She is Alliance's first MP and holding the seat is seen as crucial to that party too.

"Unlike the Peter Robinson, who describes his number one target as "returning East Belfast to DUP hands", Naomi's number one target is taking East Belfast forward.

"Her priority is people, not party, but she delivers spectacularly for both," Ms Long's party leader claimed.

Mr Ford, who is the longest serving party leader in Northern Ireland, recently celebrated 25 years a party officer.

He will attack all the other Executive parties for alleged championing "divisive politics" and cynical electioneering.

"In the turmoil of the chaotic relationship between the DUP and Sinn Fein, it's easy to forget the dysfunctional UUP/SDLP relationship when they were in charge. Despite the potential of Good Friday 1998, the efforts to keep power-sharing going via the SDLP and UUP proved pointless," he is expected to say.

In contrast, he says, Alliance offers a vision of delivery, social integration and reconciliation.

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