Ford’s Alliance saw NI as a ‘place apart’ from full British culture

The Alliance leader David Ford with senior party members on stage at the Alliance Party's annual conference in 2015. 
Picture By: Arthur Allison.
The Alliance leader David Ford with senior party members on stage at the Alliance Party's annual conference in 2015. Picture By: Arthur Allison.
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On Wednesday, David Ford resigned as Alliance Party leader after 15 years in charge.

His contribution to public life here was praised widely, but what about the political impact of his leadership?

Ford presided over modest electoral gains, but, on his watch, a moderate party that respected our constitutional position seemed increasingly in denial about British sovereignty in Northern Ireland.

Alliance was ‘agnostic’ on the Union, but it claimed to accept the decision of a majority of people here to remain in the United Kingdom.

However, while the party accepted the ‘principle of consent’ in theory, frequently it railed against its consequences.

In one of his final acts as leader, Ford joined nationalists in a High Court challenge to the government’s plans to implement ‘Brexit’ in Northern Ireland.

Westminster’s right to legislate on ‘excepted’ matters, which are not devolved to the Assembly, underpins our membership of the UK, and the case is a direct attack on that principle.

If Alliance has a philosophy, it’s that Northern Ireland is a ‘place apart’, which means that it can never participate fully in British politics or culture.

Their rationale underpins deeply divisive policies, like the party’s approach to the flag dispute at Belfast City Hall.

Ford’s Alliance was among the most bitter critics of the Conservatives’ links with the Ulster Unionist Party, on the basis that they compromised Westminster’s role as an ‘honest-broker’.

In 2010, he rushed to become justice minister, after it looked like Stormont might collapse.

Alliance propped up Sinn Fein and the DUP, but failed to deliver the ‘shared future’ strategy that was supposedly its price for joining the Executive.

Under David Ford, the party lacked a genuine plan for Northern Ireland.

It made an honest attempt to manage divisions, but it was a symptom of our broken down politics and not a cure.

In Alliance’s view, our politics had to stay in an infantilised bubble; attached to the UK’s financial drip, but never playing a full part in British public life.

• Owen Polley is a public policy consultant and commentator