Belfast Telegraph

David Ford slams Arlene Foster 'for putting self-interest ahead of victims' rights'

By Noel McAdam

First Minister Arlene Foster has been accused of putting politics and her party ahead of the needs of Troubles victims.

Alliance leader David Ford said the DUP leader's assertion that any deal on legacy issues will have to wait until after the Assembly election in May was "sad".

"She was effectively saying that electoral politics came first: that dealing with the past requires leadership and she and others weren't prepared to show leadership in case it cost their party votes," he argued.

"Party first, victims second: so much for new leadership."

Addressing his party's annual conference, Mr Ford also charged Secretary of State Theresa Villiers with ignoring victims in the negotiations which led to Stormont's Fresh Start deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

"We told her she had the leverage to secure a genuinely comprehensive agreement, but when a deal seemed easier to secure by ignoring - repeat, ignoring - victims, she blinked," he claimed.

In what could be his final conference speech as Alliance leader, Mr Ford called for an end to the "stop-go-pause-rewind" politics at Stormont,

Mr Ford, who is standing down as Justice Minister, also attacked Sinn Fein as being "economically illiterate".

Personal attacks on leader Gerry Adams were unfair, he said, adding: "The whole of Sinn Fein is economically illiterate, in the Assembly, just as they are in the Dail."

SF's promise to protect all welfare claimants indefinitely was "just impossible to fund" and the move of the Department of Agriculture headquarters to Ballykelly was going ahead "without a business case" Mr Ford said. "However, we shouldn't just criticise nationalists for that. The DUP are letting them away with the Ballykelly move, oblivious to the waste of money and the potential damage to business continuity," the Alliance chief claimed.

To applause, he told the gathering at the La Mon Hotel on Saturday of his "disgust" that women with experience of a pregnancy involving fatal foetal abnormality had been let down by the DUP, UUP and the SDLP.

And he said the DUP had "sought to cloud the issue" by saying Mrs Foster had asked Health Minister Simon Hamilton to set up an expert group - the initial deadline for which had now passed.

"Nice soundbite, if you ignore the fact that I asked the DUP Health Minister to share a consultation two-and-a-half years ago and I have never yet had a reply," he said.

Mr Ford paid tribute to three MLAs who were not standing for re-election - Anna Lo, Judith Cochrane and Kieran McCarthy - and revealed his election manifesto will include new legislation on integrated education and the environment; a climate change Bill, and an independent Environment Protection Agency.

In her speech, Alliance deputy leader Naomi Long said the whiff of corruption in Northern Ireland politics was now "a stench".

Despite past instances of corruption and greed, the coming election was taking place against the backdrop of a new Stormont expenses scandal and ongoing revelations around the Nama affair, she said.

After taking six months out to consider her future, and whether she wanted to return to political life, Mrs Long called the Fresh Start deal agreed in November "the most ironically named political agreement of all-time".

Seen by many as a racing certainty to replace Mr Ford when he stands down, she made clear she wanted to return to Stormont an elected MLA - after the East Belfast Westminster seat she snatched from Peter Robinson in 2010 went back to the DUP.

Belfast Telegraph


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