Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Alliance Party finds strength in adversity

Shared hardship can bring people together. The attacks of recent months appear to have galvanised Alliance, giving it a renewed sense of purpose.

"People say it must be very easy sitting on the fence. It is far from it," said councillor Laura McNamee, who was directly intimidated.

Alliance is often regarded "unionism lite".

But a coolness was evident towards the UUP and DUP for targeting it in a leafleting campaign in December.

David Ford, Alliance's leader, accused both parties of stirring "up tension in a divided society, when you encourage protest without knowing where it will lead and cannot even bring yourselves to call an end to illegality without any ambiguity".

Beyond the denunciation from the platform our survey shows that only one delegate out of 50 wanted to transfer to one of the main unionist parties (the UUP) in an STV contest. Being this transfer-averse may hurt unionist candidates fighting for the last seat in future elections. Yet only two delegates surveyed saw Irish unity as our long-term future.

Alliance has developed a distinct political agenda, not just a watered down version of unionism, or even a splitting of the difference between orange and green. Far from cowing the party into silence, adversity has given Alliance renewed confidence to promote core values such as integrated education.

Both David Ford and Trevor Lunn, Alliance's education spokesman, quoted last week's LucidTalk poll in the Belfast Telegraph which showed 79% support for integration.

"I am upbeat about the future," Mr Lunn said.

Time will tell whether his optimism is justified and whether Alliance will win or lose from the wave of loyalist anger that was unleashed against it.

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