Ford had endurance as a leader and achieved successes

Morning View
Morning View

David Ford survived as a leader of political party at Stormont for 15 years.

Of NI’s five big parties, his duration as a leader was only beaten by Ian Paisley, Gerry Adams, John Hume and (just) Jim Molyneaux.

Mr Ford’s tenure at the helm of Alliance was longer than all his predecessors, including Oliver Napier, John Cushnahan and John Alderdice. So on the grounds of endurance alone, Mr Ford has shown fortitude in the bear pit of Ulster politics.

But his leadership achieved real triumphs too. He presided over some of the most notable successes since the party’s foundation in 1970, including its first MP elected as an Alliance candidate, Naomi Long in 2010 (Stratton Mills had briefly been an Alliance MP, but was elected as an Ulster Unionist).

It also for a while had two simultaneous Stormont ministers, one of them Mr Ford at justice. This was more ministers than the numerically larger Ulster Unionists and SDLP, due to a quirk combination of the d’Hondt system allocation and DUP-SF sensitivity over who would get the justice ministry.

Unionists got the sense that under Mr Ford Alliance was “agnostic on the Union”, but he once told this newspaper that Scotland, Wales and NI were better off in the UK. In any event, when it came to the crunch on a host of important issues, Mr Ford was found on the sensible side of the fence.

He was constantly under pressure from – and withstood – dissident republican terrorist groups and their apologists to make life comfortable for their thug prisoners.

He came under fierce fire from the legal profession for his essential legal aid reforms – reforms that cut the annual costs but which need to be pursued further by Claire Sugden.

And he spoke out about the myths of 1916, an unnecessary violent rebellion that led to independence but also helped establish a formal north-south divide that is now entrenched.

In the final analysis he seemed to have a mainstream, old Liberal Party-style, pro European worldview, through a Northern Irish lens. It would be a sad day if Stormont did not have room for such an outlook.