DAVID Ford has defended his party’s continued presence in the Stormont Executive despite seemingly no progress on the issue which before entering the Executive he said was a deal-breaker for the party.
The Executive’s anti-sectarianism strategy, known as the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) strategy, has been stalled for years and a series of publication deadlines for the document which have been issued by the DUP and Sinn Fein over the last year have been missed.
In 2009, while in opposition to the Executive, Mr Ford said that “Alliance will not tolerate further delays” on the CSI document. Now firmly within the Executive, the party appears more tolerant of those delays, does it not?
“Well, I think the very fact that we published ‘For Everyone’ [Alliance’s proposed CSI document] a few weeks ago shows that we are not tolerating future delays; we are doing all we can to move the process on.
“But yes, I’m well aware of the fact that things don’t happen in the Executive without the agreement of the DUP and Sinn Fein. They certainly do happen in the Department of Justice and the Department of Employment and Learning without the DUP and Sinn Fein.”
In his 2010 conference speech – again before entering the Executive – Mr Ford said: “For us, no Executive is worth supporting if it is not engaging seriously with building a shared future. We need to see a meaningful consultation on the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy and swift action to implement that strategy across every department and public agency.”
Mr Ford says that there has been the “meaningful consultation” which enabled others to point out what the CSI proposals were lacking.
“I fully accept that we have not moved the Executive but we have ensured that there is public discussion in a way that there wasn’t.”
He said that while “easy” issues had been resolved between the parties, controversial debates on issues including “flags, parades and the past” have yet to be resolved and last year Alliance withdrew completely from the Executive working group which had been debating the issue, a decision which was sharply criticised by the DUP and Sinn Fein.
A year ago, as the DUP planned to abolish one of the two Alliance ministries, Mr Ford’s party gave hints that it could even quit the Executive over the decision.
However, there is no suggestion that the party will resign its seats over the CSI strategy; is that not an indictment of the party’s priorities?
“I accept we can’t progress it in the areas which require Executive agreement. I do, however, believe that we are doing significant work to progress that within the departments where we have responsibility.”