Ford defends Maskey decision

“By now you will be aware that the Alliance Councillors in Belfast City Council have supported Alex Maskey of Sinn Féin as Lord Mayor. I know that some moderate people will see potential problems with this decision, so I am writing to tell you about the reasoning behind it.”

“Alliance has never been afraid to take hard decisions. That was the case when the party was in its infancy, when we opposed Internment without trial. That was the case last November, when three of us redesignated as unionists in order to save the Agreement. On both occasions, we were subjected to internal doubts and external criticism, but I believe that both decisions proved to be correct.”

“This decision was not easy for our three Belfast colleagues, either. They had to weigh up many factors and they consulted widely, within and outside the party. There was a great variety of opinions expressed. While the decision was theirs, it has my total support and it deserves the support of every Alliance member.”

“To support Alex Maskey as Lord Mayor is not in any way to endorse the policies of Sinn Féin. But when we supported Alban Maginness as Lord Mayor the SDLP did not support the police – we were not endorsing their policies. Last year we supported Jim Rodgers, an anti-Agreement Unionist: we don’t support that position either.”

“We have to recognise the realities of politics in Belfast – and in Northern Ireland. For two elections in a row Sinn Féin have been the largest party in the City Hall. They have two Ministers in Stormont, with real powers over the two largest spending Government Departments. Compared to that, the role of Lord Mayor of Belfast, though symbolic, is purely ceremonial.”

“Last year, Alliance Councillors supported the UUP against Sinn Fein because of a lack of progress on decommissioning. Since then there have been two acts of decommissioning. While movement by republicans has been too little, and too late, we must acknowledge that a process has started.”

“Many people will have very real and genuine concerns about the IRA involvement in Columbia and continuing violence on the streets of North and East Belfast. I share those concerns, as do the City Councillors.”

“That is why we have sought clarification from the Secretary of State over the IRA and UVF ceasefires. Dr Reid is the person with the responsibility to make such judgments: that is not the role of local politicians.”

“We will continue to uphold the rule of law in all our actions. But there is an enormous amount of hypocrisy among other parties. Even unionists in councils where they share responsibilities with Sinn Fein can’t understand the hypocrisy of the unionists in Belfast.”

“Let’s not forget that UUP Councillors elected Hugh Smyth as Lord Mayor before there was even a UVF ceasefire. They have since elected both Frank McCoubrey as Deputy Lord Mayor, and he attended a show of strength by the UDA/UFF while he held the post.”

“The political process of which we are part is one based on the inclusion of all parties, dependent on their democratic strength. I believe that Sinn Fein is moving on a road towards normal democratic politics. If we are to continue to encourage that decision, we have to be prepared to take risks for peace and face up to difficult decisions.”

“The Belfast Councillors have now delivered Alex Maskey a simple message: ‘You say you want to be inclusive, a Lord Mayor for the whole city. It is now up to you to prove it.’ I believe that this challenge has the capacity to move the peace process forward, by confronting republicans with their responsibilities.”

“I know that not all Alliance voters will find this an easy decision. It was not easy for those most closely involved, either. But now that it is taken, let us support Naomi, David and Tom and unite in support of this courageous action.”


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