Unionist leadership speak out after Alliance leader quits

David Ford in 2007
David Ford in 2007

The leadership of political unionism have offered warm words to Alliance veteran David Ford, after he announced he was to quit as party leader after 15 years in the job.

Although he will continue serving as an MLA for South Antrim, the former justice minister said that the time was right to leave the party helm.

Mike Nesbitt

Mike Nesbitt

His resignation as party leader takes effect from noon on Thursday.

Among the favourites to take the role will be deputy leader Naomi Long, who has held the post for a decade.

Nominations will close next week and the successful candidate must receive more than 50% of the votes cast by the Alliance Party’s 250-strong council at a meeting on October 26.

In a tribute, Mrs Long said Mr Ford had “transformed the party and made a huge contribution to peace and stability in Northern Ireland”.

First Minister Arlene Foster

First Minister Arlene Foster

DUP First Minister Arlene Foster said in a statement: “His work as Minister of Justice following the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Province was pivotal in securing the new justice arrangements.

“On many of the major public policy issues David and I have taken opposing views but I respect the fact that he always advanced those causes which he espoused with diligence and tenacity.”

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said: “I congratulate David on sticking the pace for 15 years as party leader – that’s quite a shift in what can be a very lonely and exposed position.

“He led his party during some very challenging times both for Northern Ireland and for these institutions and I am sure he will be remembered for his contribution.”

David Ford pictured at Stormont on 05/10/2016

David Ford pictured at Stormont on 05/10/2016

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood meanwhile praised his “composure and resilience, particularly in the face of violence following the flag protests”.

At time of writing, Sinn Fein had issued no statement to the News Letter on Mr Ford’s departure.