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Tuesday 24 May 2016

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The face of defiance as Alliance 'comes through the fire'

Young councillor inspires as flag stance endorsed

By Liam Clarke

Published 04/03/2013

Councillor Laura McNamee at the Alliance party's annual conference on Saturday.
Councillor Laura McNamee at the Alliance party's annual conference on Saturday.
Alliance leader David Ford addresses delegates at their annual conference
Former Alliance party leader Sean Neeson among the gathering at the annual conference
MLA Anna Lo listening to the speeches at the Alliance party annual conference

An Alliance Party councillor forced from her home after being threatened over the Union flag row has defended her party's stance as it received unanimous backing from party members.

Speaking to delegates at the annual Alliance conference on Saturday, Laura McNamee said she was determined to continue to work towards a "shared future" despite the fall-out over flag-flying at Belfast City Hall.

Ms McNamee was one of number of party representatives attacked or threatened by loyalist protesters in the weeks after the controversial vote at Belfast City Hall. She was forced to move from her home after a threat was made against her.

As part of a wider poll carried out among delegates, the Belfast Telegraph found 100% backing for the party's designated days policy.

The young councillor, who works in East Belfast MP Naomi Long's embattled office as a senior case worker, spoke on a panel on the subject of a shared future.

"While other political parties are tied to the past and seek to entrench division in the interests of short-term political gain, Alliance has been forward-thinking and committed to rebuilding Northern Ireland," she said.

She argued that the flag vote was "not about erosion of culture but rather mutual respect and dignity for all traditions. There is no room for triumphalism in a shared future and that is a lesson that a number of people on our political spectrum have yet to learn".

She pledged, on behalf of Alliance's six Belfast councillors: "We will continue with that work, undeterred by the threats against us, as we have simply come too far to risk going backward."

Meanwhile, Alliance leader David Ford issued a defiant message on behalf of his party – saying it has been made stronger by the backlash from the Union flag row.

The Justice Minister spoke of the tough times his members had faced since its role in changing the flag-flying policy at Belfast City Hall from year-round flying to designated days only.

And the leader had scathing criticism for unionist politicians involved in distributing leaflets in the run-up to the controversial flag vote on December 3 last year, accusing them of stoking up tensions in a bid to unseat his party's only MP, Ms Long.

Mr Ford spoke of the difficult three months since the flag-flying row prompted weeks of attacks, serious street disorder as well as illegal parades and roadblocks as he addressed delegates at his party's annual conference on Saturday.

The event was held at the La Mon Hotel on the outskirts of east Belfast.

"These last three months have certainly been a tough time for Alliance. But I am sure we are the stronger for it. We have come through the fire – literally – and we have not been found wanting," he said.

Referring to the leaflets, he said: "There was a deliberate, pre-meditated campaign to whip up tensions, to generate fears over loss of identity among those who perceive themselves as having little left to give; and to go after the Alliance Party and its elected representatives, especially Naomi Long, who wasn't even involved in the debate, in order to win votes."

It kicked off when the party used a vote on Union flag-flying in Belfast City Hall to implement its policy of designated days. This replaced the total ban sought by nationalists and the perpetual display favoured by unionists.

Since then the party has come under consistent attack, a fact that inevitably dominated minds in the conference.

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