Convening virtually for its annual Conference, Alliance party leader Naomi Long praised the party for showing real leadership, not only responding to the pandemic but delivering progress in the restored institutions after three years of suspension.
In the full-day event on Saturday 27 March that also featured panel discussions on health and education, justice and societal change, and climate change and international affairs, party leader Naomi Long MLA delivered the keynote speech in which she stressed this was a real chance for change: “given all the challenges and the opportunities Covid has presented, we must not settle simply for a return to how things were before. Instead, we must grasp this opportunity both to address the structural weaknesses in society and to build on the positive changes we have made to our lives and our priorities.”
After reporting on her achievements in her first year as Minister of Justice and the initiatives to come, she praised each member of the Alliance team in the Assembly for their efforts during the pandemic and reserved special mention for the Alliance’s sole member of the UK Parliament, Stephen Farry.
She noted: “his efforts have been recognised in the national and local media, but also by those in business and politics across these islands and across the EU. It has also drawn praise from some unlikely sources – including Michael Gove, who thank Stephen and Alliance for approaching the protocol in such a constructive way. Whilst praise by any current government minister is a bit of a double-edged sword, I think it is absolutely justified in this case.”
“We’ve all been encouraged, both by the increase in membership and by recent polling that the Alliance Surge continues,” she continued. “When I became leader only four years ago, there was still furious debate as to whether Alliance would ever be able to break through the 10% ceiling: [it is] hard to believe that now questions are being asked as to what would happen to the Assembly structures and designation system if we were the largest or second largest party!”
Looking ahead to the Assembly elections scheduled in 2022: “of course, the only polls that really matter are the elections themselves, and so we will not be complacent or take anything for granted. We can also expect the pressure to increase, as other parties seek to undermine the progress we have made.”
“We are the growing evidence – the lived reality - that people can come together, united around a vision of a community in which everyone is treated with respect and where diversity is embraced and celebrated rather than merely tolerated. For over 50 years we have been at coalface of driving prosperity, protecting our planet, uniting our people, and delivering progress,” she concluded.
The Conference also heard a speech from Louise Haigh MP, the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.