Alderman Billy Webb said: “Chair, Member of Parliament, Members of the Legislative Assembly, Aldermen, Councillors, Distinguished Visitors, and fellow Party Members, Good morning and welcome to our Annual Conference for 2012 at this new location for our conference.
I am delighted to be making this welcome speech at conference in my new role as Party President.
In this new role I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Colm Cavanagh, who has served the Party well in the position of President for many years. Thank you Colm.
It would be an understatement to say that the past year has been a good year for Alliance.
Because the past year has been such a fantastically good year, with our increased membership, we needed this new bigger venue to be able to accommodate us.
I would like to welcome our Party Leader, and Justice Minister, David Ford, our Deputy Leader, and Member of Parliament, Naomi Long, our Minister for Employment & Learning, Stephen Farry, our other 6 MLAs, our 44 Councillors from 14 Councils across Northern Ireland, all who have carried out their roles so diligently since their election to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Councils just under a year ago.
And of course I would like to welcome all our members, without whom this party could not exist.
I take particular pride in being the first President to be able to greet, from within the party, an MP and 2 Government Ministers, and to do so as the Mayor of Newtownabbey.
Before I go any further, there are a few people I wish to pay tribute to.
We have had to say goodbye to leaders who inspired change in Northern Ireland.
Oliver Napier, our former leader embodied the spirit of Alliance.
He was the man who motivated many of us, myself included, to join the party and perpetuate change, at a time when putting one’s head above the parapet was life threatening.
Oliver was a statesman and visionary, his ambition of a united Northern Ireland will continue to be the backbone of our commitment to a shared future. I am delighted that Lady Briege Napier has joining us today.
We remember Tony Hill, a real gentleman, who dedicated much of his working life to the whole North Down community.
He will undoubtedly be remembered as a well-respected and highly committed Alliance activist and Councillor.
And finally we remember Addie Morrow, former deputy leader and long serving Castlereagh Councillor. He was a huge inspiration to many of us; his whole life was a practical demonstration of his commitment to peace and reconciliation.
We are very thankful to have been represented and served by these men, who were always a positive public face for Alliance.
The 2011 elections witnessed many promising gains for Alliance, across Northern Ireland. Our radical and positive campaign proved beneficial to our party.
This success has not only been reflected in the Assembly, but significantly at local level where we achieved an extra 14 extra seats in Local Councils.
This success enabled us to encourage and promote change in communities, at grassroots level, and in many cases reach out into new areas for Alliance.
In my own Council of Newtownabbey it gave us the opportunity to achieve, for me, the honour of being Mayor and to influence a ‘change policy.’
This upsurge in council seats throughout Councils will, without doubt, inspire increased success at Assembly level.
In Belfast we continue to hold the balance of power in Belfast City Council and I take particular pride that my son Andrew was elected to Belfast Council. I will forever remember the night of the Council election count when our party leader was with me in Newtownabbey when word came through that Andrew had been elected in Belfast.
David sent a text to Andrew to congratulate him and said he was hugging my wife Pat. The immediate reply from Andrew was ‘put my mother down’!
Our success at Council level was a great feat for Alliance. It is through Councils where we are continuing to strengthen our communication with the local community, listening to their current and impending struggles, which are enabling us to break down the barriers of social division.
Our successes in Ballymena, Newcastle, Coleraine and Craigavon highlight that Alliance has captivated the public.
These successes of course would not have been possible without the tireless hard work of you, the members, and I would like to thank each and every one of you who, with boundless enthusiasm, enabled us to achieve such an impressive set of election results, whether through knocking on doors, delivering letters or of the other endless number of tasks that are taken on by our Members.
As I have already mentioned the excellent election result spurred many new members to join the Party in this past year and I extend a special welcome to you all today
This past year has not only been a good year for Alliance, but a good year for Northern Ireland as a whole.
The ‘2012 Our Time, Our Place’ campaign encourages us to come together to celebrate the diversity of NI’s culture and heritage; ship-building, sea-faring, music-making, sporting excellence, our beautiful landscapes and our proud literary history.
Alliance has, once again, lead the way in our demand for an inclusive strategy to celebrate, not just this year’s celebrations, but also the upcoming decade of centenaries.
Our call for a shared approach, to mark the decade of centenaries, has witnessed its first success this past month in the coming together in the celebration of the Titanic, this illustrates the potential of Northern Ireland when we work together with a shared and common purpose.
This 2012 Conference give us the chance to come together to celebrate the successes of the past year and also to look forward to the challenges and opportunities of the year ahead.
The results of the last round of elections are a constant reminder of possibilities that are achievable, when we work together as one team with a common aim.
Conference also gives us the opportunity to share the message with a wide audience:- hard work, undertaken together with a common goal, will give the results everyone wishes to see and from that success comes further success.
In closing can I once again welcome everyone here today, we have a packed agenda with many different, speeches and panel and fringe events, so I truly believe that there is something for everyone.
I hope you will stay and enjoy the day, engage with the vast range of exhibitors, listen to the speeches and reconnect with your friends in Alliance.
Please also look back with pride in what we have achieved together in this past year, and look forward to the year ahead in which Alliance will continue to push it’s unique message of a truly shared future for Northern Ireland.
After which we will come back together for Conference 2013 to celebrate what I am sure will be yet another successful year for this great Party. The Alliance Party.”