Mike Nesbitt has launched a savage attack on the Alliance Party and its record in Government on the eve of its conference.
The new UUP leader accused Alliance of being “unprincipled and driven by self-interest” and of presiding over “a catalogue of disasters” in both its ministries.
Mr Nesbitt challenged Alliance’s commitment to its keystone policy of a shared future.
He recalled Alliance leader David Ford had justified being in Government with the DUP by saying: “The DUP may not be particularly concerned about building a shared future ideologically, but in practical terms they recognise we are wasting money by maintaining division and segregated facilities.”
Mr Nesbitt said: “I can only imagine the disappointment of Alliance voters hoping for a principled stance on a shared future.”
He described the figure of £1.5 billion a year cited by Alliance as the cost of sectarian division.
The £1.5bn figure first appeared in a 2007 report by Deloittes. Mr Nesbitt said: “My Ulster Unionist colleague Michael Copeland has asked every department to detail the cost of division within their own department, yet none was able to answer.”
He challenged the Alliance chief to justify the figure today.
Mr Nesbitt claimed that the Alliance record in Government “is hardly anything to write home about”.
He spoke of “a catalogue of disasters” in Mr Ford’s Justice Department, listing “the mistaken releases of prisoners, deaths in custody, on-going dissident republican protests in Maghaberry prison, the handling of the legal aid issue” and “a botched attempt to change emblems of the Prison Service which prompted the First Minister to threaten to resign”.
Turning to the Department of Education and Learning he said that Alliance minister Stephen Farry “has presided over record levels of youth unemployment, 50% cuts in funding for adult apprenticeships” as well as handling the merger of Queen’s University and Stranmillis badly.
An Alliance spokesman replied: “In last year’s election the public showed growing support for the Alliance Party. These criticisms come from a newly elected leader with little |experience who leads a party that is in decline at a time when |Alliance is in the ascendant. We will not, therefore, be responding to these silly |remarks.”
The Alliance Party and UUP are rivals, particularly in the east of the province. Alliance won eight seats in last May’s Stormont election while the UUP won 16. But Alliance got two ministries while the UUP got only one.
This is because Alliance was given Justice, held by David Ford, the party leader, after a cross-community vote.
Alliance’s Stephen Farry was also allocated the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) under the d’Hondt system. It is proposed to dissolve DEL despite Alliance objections.