Yes we can

Bangor today hosted The Alliance Party’s 2008 Conference at The Marine Court Hotel.

Our Party Leader David Ford MLA delivered an excellent speech remarking “I want to bring our agenda into government and deliver in the long-term where the tribal parties have failed”.

Deputy Leader Naomi Long MLA stated “The sad reality is that as Sinn Fein and the DUP continue to battle daily with each other, the biggest losers in those battles have been the people of Northern Ireland and the biggest casualty has been public confidence in politics”

Dr Stephen Farry MLA remarked “In another sense, there is growing evidence that those societies that are able to attract and sustain a mixed population tend to be more successful in that talented people are nourished. This truism illustrates the folly of the homophobia from the Iris Robinson's of this world”

Following the conference I managed to watch part of the match between Northern Ireland’s gay friendly rugby team The Ulster Titans and Bangor RFC thirds at Uprichard Park, Bangor. It was a great end to the conference which was about making the case for a Shared Future where everyone is valued and allowed to reach their full potential regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation etc.

During the morning session of the Conference I was given the opportunity to speak on a motion calling for publication of the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy. Below is the speech I delivered.

Conference, it gives me great pleasure to speak to you in support of this motion at what is my first Alliance Party Conference.

Everywhere I go in Northern Ireland I hear the same message. We want change.

The people of Northern Ireland are fed up with bickering and bigotry and want a government with ambition that dares to hope.

We live in a region where only 3% of people would object to having a person of the opposite religion as a neighbour. A region where over 70% of people wouldn’t mind if a relative or friend was in a relationship with a gay person.

But yet we have an Executive with Ministers and a First Lady preaching intolerance and prejudice.

People want a change. People want a political system which reflects the new Northern Ireland.

At the heart of the New Northern Ireland must be a society which embraces and celebrates diversity.

Government can help deliver this by providing leadership and a strategy for a Shared Future.

When devolution returned last year we were promised a new bigger and better strategy for a Shared Future but we are still waiting. It’s no where to be found.

Maybe CSI should be put onto the case to find the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration Strategy because it seems to be unlawfully at large.

Whilst the Executive dithers and delays The Alliance Party need to continue making the case for diversity.

We need to outline not merely the costs of segregation but rather the opportunities of diversity.

Recent research has proven that cities, towns and regions which embrace and celebrate diversity attract high value knowledge based industries. We need to continually remind people and other political parties that intolerant and prejudicial attitudes don’t just harm minorities but also the economy we all thrive off.

We need to end the poverty of aspiration where people fail to hope beyond today, neglect to look to tomorrow and forget that bigotry and division not only damages lives but deters investment and consumes public expenditure.

We must continue spreading the Alliance message of hope and aspiration at every opportunity, whether it be in Council chambers, at the Assembly or maybe at the Executive table.

The people of Northern Ireland are increasingly looking for leadership, hope and change.

Day after day they ask the Executive parties whether they can deliver and the answer is a resounding no.

The only future the Executive parties offer is a mirror image of the past.

To those who ask whether Alliance can deliver my answer to you today is Yes we can.

Saturday 20 September 2008