They all continue to carry out their roles in the Assembly, and Westminster, in such a diligent and dignified way.
I also welcome our 43 Councillors who work so hard in 14 Councils across Northern Ireland.
I welcome Party members, and especially those who are joining us at conference for the first time.
Last year I stood before conference and reflected on what were an excellent set of election results for Alliance – we made great strides in pushing forward the Alliance agenda.
Over the past year – a year without an election – we could have been forgiven for resting on our laurels a little, but that is not what this Party does.
We have spent 2012, and the start of 2013 continuing to lead change, to push on with the work necessary, to create a shared future and at times in very difficult circumstances.
Our MP, our MLAs, and our Councillors have all led from the front in terms of ideas, bringing motions to Westminster, in the Assembly and in Councils.
They have been working hard on the ground throughout our community and not afraid to make difficult calls – based on what we all believe to be the best For Everyone.
If we look at the major difficult issues that have unfortunately dominated the news over the last year, flags, parades and the past, Alliance elected representatives have led from the front.
This is particularly evident in Belfast City Hall – where our Councillors there faced immense pressure and abuse but, rather than give in to that, they pushed forward the Alliance agenda, our long standing Party policy.
Our policy is in line with Equality Commission legal guidance, Parliament Buildings at Stormont, numerous other Councils, here and in GB, and reflects both the constitutional position and diversity of Northern Ireland in a balanced and respectful way.
Our Belfast Councillors took the position that was most likely to make Belfast City Hall truly a City Hall for all.
But as we all know this decision did not come without its difficulties.
Those leaders of political parties with ‘unionist’ in their name have a lot to answer for.
Their actions, and at times inaction, demonstrated their unsuitability for office.
When we were threatened and targeted they defended the 40,000 leaflets they had distributed.
Leaflets which deliberately stoked up tensions, targeted Alliance and specifically Naomi Long, and this week were glibly described by Mike Nesbitt as ‘part of an awareness campaign.’
When we were attacked their silence was deafening.
When this country was in turmoil we were blamed and called pan-nationalists, and accused of seeking publicity.
But those who faced this so publicly did what this Party does best, they stood firm in the face of the storm, took courageous positions and were not swayed from core Alliance values.
I can’t put it any better than the Belfast Telegraph which said-
For everyone who cares about democracy; who wants an end to sectarian posing and mind games; an end to mindless thugery; an end to immature reactions to complicated issues; and end to whataboutery; wants no more from politicians who condemn violence with empty words. For those people; the vast majority of the population of Northern Ireland, from whatever political or religious background, we are Alliance supporters today.’
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all our elected representatives and constituency staff for their braveness and commitment and thank them for that.
I am sure you will all join with me in showing support for those who have been specifically targeted
Naomi and her staff in East Belfast
Stewart and his staff in Carrickfergus
Councillors Geraldine Mulvenna, Linda Cleland and Laura McNamee
Our six Councillors in Belfast
And finally Councillors Michael and Christine Bower and their little daughter Grace.
The brave actions at Belfast City Hall and around other Council Chambers are echoed in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The OFDFM wanted all Party talks on the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration document, but only on their terms – where difficult issues could be ignored or placed in “square brackets” and where discussion could only take place behind closed doors without the engagement from the vast array of professionals who have such huge expertise in this area.
Alliance tried to work within this system, but when it became clear that the process wasn’t capable of creating a strong and robust shared future strategy, our Party took the brave steps to say so.
They stepped away from this process so that the debate could be opened to the public, and to engage with the professionals who had the expertise.
The public have waited for a long time for this strategy, in 2007 we were promised a revised version of the Shared Future strategy – in 2010 we finally had a strategy published but of course this was roundly criticised via public consultation.
Throughout the OFMDFM ‘closed door’ process Alliance put forward our position on a range of topics all aimed at how we best create a shared future and now we have done this through “For Everyone – The Alliance Party Blueprint for an Executive Strategy to Build a Shared and Better Future. “
This publication has opened up this discussion to a much wider audience, ignited public debate and showed, once again, just how serious this Party is about tackling division, and creating a shared future for everyone.
It is this commitment to a shared future, and the dedication to the hard work that we put into advancing this cause, that has brought many of us to be in this Party and to be here today.
Last year I stood before Conference and said;
“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.”
I’m incredibly proud to stand here as Party President and see that this message was taken on board – we continued to push our message, we continued hard work in our constituencies and here we are back in La Mon, a bigger Party and stronger for it.
In closing, once again, I welcome everyone to Conference 2013, where I know there really is something for everyone.
I hope you will stay throughout the day, enjoy it, engage with the vast range of exhibitors, listen to the speeches and reconnect with your friends in Alliance and recharge ready for another year of sharing the Alliance message of For Everyone.
Let us start the day by sitting back and viewing our Party Political Broadcast, recently shown on BBC and UTV, where I am sure many of you have seen it already. However, I believe there is no better way to set the tone for today, and the year ahead than by once again reflecting on how Alliance truly is the Party For Everyone.”