The Alliance Party held its 33rd annual Conference on 8 March 2003, at the Dunadry Hotel, Antrim.
In his Conference speech, David Ford MLA discussed the current international situation in Iraq, as well as the current state of the political process in Northern Ireland when Mr Ford reminded the audience of Alliance’s firm belief in the rule of law:
“That is why we opposed internment, why we insist that the legitimate forces of the state must obey the law themselves, and why we thought long and hard about the early releases in the Agreement.”
Mr Ford also expressed his disappointment at the current inability for Northern Ireland politicians to resolve difficulties themselves:
“Another Commission to monitor the state of progress towards a peaceful society, a new judicial body to deal with On the Runs, and more powers for the Secretary of State. They do not indicate a mature political society, capable of taking responsibility for its own actions.”
What was needed, he said, was more trust and confidence that all Northern Ireland elected representatives will uphold the law, especially whenever one party is deemed to be in breach of it.
The Party Leader paid tribute to the rest of the Alliance Assembly team: to Seamus Close MLA, for his role in the Public Accounts Committee, especially his fight against the iniquitous use of the rating system; to Sean Neeson MLA, for his successful campaign to get a gas pipeline extended to Derry, and unrelenting pressure to deal with the scandalous over-pricing of electricity; to Kieran McCarthy, for his campaign for free personal care-with only the Alliance MLAs voting for it in the Assembly; and to Eileen Bell MLA, for championing integrated education and community relations.
Quoting the late Robert Kennedy, Mr Ford described how the actions of thousands of people in Northern Ireland are sending out ripples of hope for a better society:
“Every person who refuses to go along with sectarian attitudes sends out a ripple of hope. Every child at an integrated schools sends out a ripple of hope. Every citizen who refuses to identify with either unionism or nationalism sends out a ripple of hope.”
“When school students get together to talk about peace, it sends a ripple of hope. When good neighbours stand together at a time of tension, it sends out a ripple of hope. When public servants use their influence to support sharing, not separation, it sends out a ripple of hope.”
“The ripples of hope are spreading from a thousand sources, as people oppose the apartheid society in all its guises.”
Mr Ford concluded with a call for activism and support, to be the political voice for this growing movement:
“Alliance is not a party that seeks the easy route between the two traditional blocs. It is a party that takes the principled stand. We are the only party that can truly unite this diverse community.”
Motions were also passed on the crisis in Iraq, the abuse of the Northern Ireland regional rate, the failure to progress the political situation in Northern Ireland, the demand to abolish tuition fees in Northern Ireland, and the call for District Councils to be granted the power to initiate third-party appeals.
There were also two panel discussions on the future of health care and community relations.
Paul Murphy, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, spoke on the relationship between Northern Ireland and Europe, while former Progressive Democrat TD, Des O’Malley, described the Republic of Ireland’s relationship with Europe, as well as the established working consensus between the Irish and British governments on Northern Ireland affairs.
The full itinerary of the Conference, including links to individual speeches, can be found on the HQ Events page.