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David Ford to be re-elected as Alliance leader despite speculation he'd stand aside for Naomi Long

Exclusive by Suzanne Breen

David Ford is set to be re-elected as Alliance leader at the party's annual general meeting on Saturday despite speculation he would stand aside, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Mr Ford had been expected to step down shortly after last month's Assembly election in order to hand over to the party's deputy leader, Naomi Long.

However, Alliance sources said that Mr Ford's name had been put forward for re-election at the AGM and no challenge was expected.

They said that Mrs Long was fully behind the decision and was happy to continue as deputy leader.

Mr Ford (65) has been Alliance leader for 15 years.

He has stated that he will step aside when the party wants a change.

In an interview earlier this year, he said: "When I became leader, I told people: 'Don't wait for the men in grey suits when you want me to go, tell me to go'."

After Mrs Long's return to Stormont last month there was growing speculation among Alliance members that Mr Ford would not put his name forward for re-election at the AGM.

The party's Assembly election results were disappointing.

It held on to its eight seats, but did not make the gains it hoped for in South Belfast, North Down or North Belfast.

Mr Ford turned down the Justice ministry after Alliance failed to reach agreement with the DUP and Sinn Fein over a series of reforms, including limiting the use of petitions of concern.

The party now sits on the Opposition benches at Stormont but it does not have enough seats to qualify for official Opposition status. Some grassroots Alliance members believe Mrs Long should take over from Mr Ford now in an attempt to raise the party's profile.

However, well-placed sources told the Belfast Telegraph that while Mrs Long was a certainty to eventually secure the top position, the time was not right.

Meanwhile, Alliance is due to co-opt a young Zimbabwean woman on to Belfast City Council.

The party meets tonight to select a candidate to fill the seat vacated by Paula Bradshaw, who was elected as an MLA last month.

Kate Nicholl, who worked in Anna Lo's office, is the only candidate. Her mother is South African and her father is from North Down.

Sources said that Duncan Morrow, who unsuccessfully ran for the party in the Assembly and council elections in South Belfast, had not put his name forward for the vacancy.

Mr Morrow, a former head of the Community Relations Council, polled 2,691 first preference votes in the Stormont poll.

Alliance yesterday announced its team of spokespeople to shadow the new Executive.

Mrs Long will cover Communities; Stephen Farry Economy and Finance; Trevor Lunn, Justice, and Stewart Dickson the Executive Office.

Paula Bradshaw is taking on Health; Kellie Armstrong Infrastructure; Chris Lyttle Education, and Mr Ford Agriculture.

The Alliance leader said his team would bring "energy and vigour" to the job.

"I am confident they will hold the relevant ministers to account, while also providing a strong alternative based on the Alliance manifesto," he added.

Belfast Telegraph


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