Alliance Party leader David Ford has said the pace of change in Northern Ireland needs to increase.
The South Antrim MLA, speaking at the party’s 46th annual conference at the La Mon Hotel on Saturday, said the other Executive parties have been guilty of holding back Northern Ireland for too long.
“The leaders of the other main parties have failed time and again to deliver the significant, important changes this society needs,” he said.
“They have dithered and disagreed, protecting their own votes at the expense of progress. They have prevented us from dealing with the past in a way which would allow us to move into the future.”
Mr Ford said that in the upcoming Assembly election “every vote can count”.
He said winning more Alliance seats, and ensuring an Alliance minister, is the way of “getting away from stop-go-pause-rewind politics – of which we have had far too many examples recently”.
The Alliance Party will publish its manifesto next month, he said, and among the issues on the agenda are new legislation on integrated education; a Climate Change Bill and an independent Environment Protection Agency; placing mental health at the core of the public health agenda; the legacy of the past; extending civil marriage provisions to same-sex couples; and reform of the Stormont institutions.
Turning to the legacy of the Troubles, Mr Ford said “all parties should be prepared to give” when it comes to victims and survivors.
“I described the so-called ‘Fresh Start’ as a false dawn for victims of the past. I am amused, but pleased, that a number of journalists have repeated the phrase. But I am anything but pleased that it is true. Those who expected something for victims and survivors have been let down, yet again.
“Shame on those who let them down: the two governments, Sinn Fein and the DUP. Our position is simple, clear and resolute: deal with the past, or there’s no deal.”
He added: “I have made it clear, both publicly and in private meetings, that the government has a duty to fund the issues of the past.”
Mr Ford, who has been justice minister for six years but is not seeking re-election to the post after the May poll, said during his time in office “there has been more fundamental reform to the justice system in those six years than in the previous 16 – or possibly 26”.
He further blasted fellow MLAs in the DUP, UUP and SDLP who “promised women who had experienced pregnancy with a fatal foetal abnormality that they would do what they could to help and then broke that promise”.
The Alliance leader also said he was proud to be a member of the EU and that he believes “Britain’s and Northern Ireland’s position in Europe is for the benefit of our society and also of benefit to others”.
“As justice minister, I see the positive benefits that Europe has brought to co-operation between the two justice systems of this island.”
He added: “Let’s be blunt – leaving the EU would be a massive step backwards for the UK, including, if not especially, Northern Ireland. A backward step we simply can’t afford to take.”
EVERY YEAR, SUSPICIONS OF CORRUPTION AIRSE:
Alliance deputy leader Naomi Long said for politicians to have the confidence of the public, parties must be open and transparent.
Ms Long said: “Every year I speak at our conference and every year there appears to be some accusation of corruption or greed at the heart of our political system. It’s as though nothing is learnt from the repetition – nothing changes except what was the whiff of corruption is now rapidly becoming a stench which hangs heavily over the guilty and innocent alike.
“Year after year Alliance has pressed for change and year after year other parties seek to pause progress, further fuelling the public’s mistrust and suspicion. Scrutiny is key to delivering open, transparent and accountable governance. No politician should seek to pause progress towards delivering it and the public will rightly question the motives of those who do.”
As repeatedly reported in the past by the News Letter, the government has failed to allow any light to be shed on who funds Northern Irish political parties.